Thursday, March 10, 2011


A recent news story caught my attention and it should catch yours. A prominent Florida lawyer, Malcolm Riddell, 58, and his wife were rudely awoken at sunrise by loud knocking and a voice announcing “FBI! Open up!” When he did, a dozen armed agents stormed their beachfront condo overlooking a marina and held him against the wall while they searched his computer. The agents eventually told Riddell that they were looking for child pornography transmitted through his wireless router. After some investigation, the real culprit turned out to be someone in a boat moored in the marina 12 stories below and hundreds of feet away. He went by the screen name of “Hardpedo.” The FBI had been tracking this sicko for nearly a year but they never could nail down his location until he popped up on Riddell’s router.

Wireless signals generally won’t travel more than 400 feet or so. But this pervert was using a booster device made from a Pringle’s can to receive the signal from Riddell’s condo. Riddell was eventually cleared of suspicion and the FBI arrested 52-year-old Mark Brown, the boater, for possession of more than 10 million images of child pornography. Mr. Riddell told the agents that he didn’t bother securing his router because he didn’t believe his wireless would reach very far. Besides, most of his neighbors were of retirement age and wealthy, making it unlikely that they would mooch off his Internet access.

Are you sufficiently scared yet? No? Well, my neighbors in Indian Springs will be disturbed that I recently drove through our neighborhood with my laptop and used a program that maps the wireless signals coming from your homes. Of the dozens of wireless internet connections I detected, a large percentage of them were unprotected. Not only could I mooch off your wireless connection, I could also park across the street an intercept your login and password for online banking, Facebook and even credit card numbers. I didn’t, of course, but I could. And if I can, any idiot can.

So, if your home or business router isn’t protected, you simply must secure it. The bad news is that securing your wireless router is just a bit tricky for the uninitiated but you can probably stumble your way through it. Start with the manual that came with your router and go from there. The worst thing that could happen is that your internet might be down until you call someone like me to come and clean up your mess so, by all means, give it a try. The things you will need to do to secure your wireless network include: 1.) Change the default Administrator password on your router. 2.) Update the firmware for your wireless router and update the drivers for your wireless notebook adapter(s). 3.) Use a high level of encryption such as WPA2 with a strong password. Some techs will claim that using something called “mac address authentication” will help secure your network. This is old and busted technology and can be easily overcome.

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