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Why your wi-fi network is not safe

Published Aug 30, 2013

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Johannesburg - Even if your wireless network in your home has an encrypted password, it can easily be hacked by anyone with a laptop and an internet connection.

Most Wi-Fi routers come standard with security features to prevent any break-ins, but cyber crooks have several tricks up their sleeves to get around this.

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“It is conceivable that many end-users make the tacit assumption that the hardware vendors have designed the equipment they are buying with security in mind,” reads a 2011 University of KwaZulu-Natal report on wireless security.

Whenever a device such as a tablet or laptop is used on a Wi-Fi router in your home, an encrypted key is sent between the two to keep your network safe, or so you think.

As there are only 13 wireless channels in South Africa, a cyber criminal only needs to be in the vicinity of your network and can steal the key by using software that can easily be found on the internet.

The report stated that if a wireless signal was unobstructed, it could travel up to 500m, even from a standard device. But the key is still encrypted, so again the crook turns to the world wide web, paying as little as R100 to have the encryption cracked on sites that specialise in this.

Once the criminal has the key he can access your wireless network, which means he has free access to the internet and can control your Wi-Fi devices.

Because these devices are often used to store and share sensitive data such as banking details, the consequences could be dire.

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“Individuals who use their home addresses, first names, surnames or any other personally identifiable information for naming their wireless networks are essentially providing data that could be used in an exploit by a social engineer,” reads the report.

There are ways to prevent yourself from falling victim to this – first by ensuring you have a strong password on your network, which is a mix of letters and numbers, and second, protecting the network itself with stronger encryption systems.

A Virtual Private Network is one such system that generally uses stronger encryption methods than standard security.

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However, you need to do research on this software before you buy it, depending on the type of network you use and how much security you need. - The Star

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