<p></p> <p>When you set up a wireless home computer network, it's critical to keep it safe and inaccessible to outsiders.</p> <p>You may think you're being nice by letting your neighbors use your Internet connection, but if you do, then you're also letting in everyone else. That includes the <a href="">identity thief</a> who can grab personal information from your PC, the guy down the hall who downloads three movies a night and the kid next door who'll make sure you get the blame for his illegal music sharing.</p> <p>Fortunately, most wireless routers, also known as gateways, offer detailed, easy-to-understand instructions to make sure you can control who uses them. Here are some tips to get you started. Click "next" in the upper right of this page to proceed.</p> <p></p>

<strong>Change the wireless gateway's default administrative username and password.</strong>

<p> If you're getting a new wireless router, replace both the administrative username and <a href="">password</a> right after you first power it on. If you've had the router for a while, check the instruction manual to be sure you're no longer using the defaults.</p> <p>"Most wireless devices can actually work out of the box, thanks to the multitude of technologies and features implemented to facilitate deployment even for non-technical consumers," explained Alexandru Catalin Cosoi, head of the online threats lab at Bucharest, Romania security firm BitDefender.</p> <p>But keeping routers on "factory" settings is the most common mistake users make. Hackers know that many people never change them, so they search for default login information, such as "admin" and "password," which will give them full control.</p> <p></p>

<strong>Turn on wireless network encryption. </strong>

<p>"Home wireless devices usually come with two built-in encryption protocols, namely Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) and Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA / WPA2)," Cosoi said.</p> <p>Unfortunately, WEP, common on older routers, was found to have serious security flaws. Every router sold since 2006 supports WPA or WPA2. If you've got an old gateway that supports only WEP, it's time to upgrade.</p> <p>Check your router's instruction manual to switch on <a href="">encryption</a>, which will make sure no outsiders can snoop on your transmissions. Create a strong network access password and then set up every laptop, tablet and smartphone in your household to automatically use it.</p> <p>[<a alt="((CONLINK|2347|How%20to%20Create%20and%20Remember%20Super-Secure%20Passwords))" href="">How to Create and Remember Super-Secure Passwords</a> ]</p> <p></p>

<strong>Disable the gateway's administrative remote access, if possible.</strong>

<p> "Most routers and access points allow an authorized user to alter the device's settings -- even if they are not in the building -- by simply typing their IP address into a browser," Cosoi said.</p> <p>But when remote access is enabled, anyone snooping on your connection to the router can capture the administrative username and password, and then come back later to change the settings.</p> <p>Check your wireless gateway's installation guide to see if remote access can be disabled, and if so follow the appropriate instructions. You'll still be able to change settings using a computer connected to the router by a physical network cable.</p> <p></p>

<strong>Turn on MAC filtering. </strong>

<p>Another method of keeping out intruders is to create a "whitelist "of devices allowed to use the wireless network. Fortunately, every network interface of every Internet-capable device -- computer, smartphone, gaming console or tablet -- has a unique, permanent Media Access Control (MAC) "address." Most home wireless routers will let you create an "invitation list" of MAC addresses.</p> <p>"But some wireless adapters allow the user to change the MAC address as needed, which means that MAC filtering alone is not an efficient solution to keep intruders at bay," Cosoi warned. "However, it is an extra precaution that, paired with a strong WPA [password], will increase your wireless network's security."</p> <p>Here's <a href="" target="_blank">a link to a website</a> that shows you how to find your device's MAC addresses. Again, refer to the instruction guide to enable and configure MAC address filtering.</p> <p>Those are the best an easiest ways to build walls around your network. Some security-conscious users go even further. They take the following steps to hide their networks from casual users or hackers who may be looking for a convenient way to hop onto the Internet.</p> <p></p>

<strong>Disable SSID broadcasting. </strong>

<p> It'll make the network "invisible" to anyone who's not aware that there's an active wireless transmitter in the area.</p> <p>"In order to allow the human user to tell one wireless network from another, routers and access points automatically broadcast their names (also known as ESSID/SSID or Service Set ID)," Cosoi said.</p> <p>The SSID broadcast lets the network be easily found by its owner and any houseguests he may have, but it also tells everyone else that it's there. Turning off SSID broadcasting won't block authorized users -- they'll just have to type in the SSID manually. Your router's manual will explain how to do this.</p> <p></p>

<strong>Minimize the wireless gateway's transmission power.</strong>

<p> Just like a radio station, a wireless network can reach an area that is proportional to the power of the built-in transmitter.</p> <p>The router's factory-preset value will probably be more than enough to cover a home and even part of the public spaces surrounding it, such as stairways or the sidewalk in front of the house. That means that anyone equipped with a netbook or laptop can find your network and attempt to force his way in.</p> <p>Cutting back the transmission power ensures that the router will not transmit beyond your property, making network sniffing (a method to identify available wireless networks in the area) much more difficult.</p> <p>"Transmission power can be controlled even on devices that do not have this option built in," Cosoi said. "Simply removing the device's antenna (or one of the antennas, if the wireless device has more than one) will also result in signals low enough to deter interception, but sufficient for high performance inside the house."</p> <p></p>

<strong>Never place the gateway near a window overlooking public places. </strong>

<p>Radio waves transmit more efficiently through glass than they do through concrete. You don't want strangers in the street, courtyard or park hijacking your signal.</p> <p></p>

<strong>Don't give others your network access password.</strong>

<p> "Home networks are based on trust: there are no expensive authentication mechanisms set in place to minimize access to one resource or another," Cosoi said. "On the contrary, home users tend to make everything publicly available, in order for the information from one computer to be accessible to other machines in the household."</p> <p>That's fine if you automatically set all Internet-ready devices to automatically use the password, which means your kids won't have to type it in every time they use their iPads. Some routers allow you to create a second wireless network, which provides an Internet connection but doesn't permit access to other machines on the network. If you have friends over, give them the password to this network.</p>

How to Secure Your Home Wireless Network