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Securing your Wireless Network

What can I do?

Most Wireless Routers are easy enough to set up that many users simply plug it in and start using the network without giving much thought to security. Nevertheless, taking a few extra minutes to configure the security features of your wireless router is time well spent. Here are some of the things you can do to protect your wireless home network.

Secure your wireless router

Almost all routers have an administrator password that's needed to log into the device and modify any configuration settings. Most devices use a weak default password like "password" or the manufacturer's name, and some don't have a default password at all.  As soon as you set up a new Wireless Router, your first step should be to change the default password to something else. You may not use this password very often, so be sure to write it down in a safe place so you can refer to it if needed. Without it, the only way to access the router or access point may be to reset it to factory default settings which will wipe away any configuration changes you've made.

Don't Broadcast your SSID

Most Wireless Routers automatically (and continually) broadcast the network's name, or SSID (Service Set IDentifier). This makes setting up wireless clients extremely convenient since you can locate a Wireless Router without having to know what it's called, but it will also make your Wireless Router visible to any wireless systems within range of it. Turning off SSID broadcast for your network makes it invisible to your neighbors and passers-by (though it will still be detectible by WLAN "sniffers").

Enable WPA encryption instead of WEP

802.11's WEP (Wired Equivalency Privacy) encryption has well-known weaknesses that make it relatively easy for a determined user with the right equipment to crack the encryption and access the wireless network. A better way to protect your Wireless Router is with WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access). WPA provides much better protection and is also easier to use, since your password characters aren't limited to 0-9 and A-F as they are with WEP. WPA support is built into Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Mac and virtually all modern wireless hardware and operating systems. A more recent version, WPA2, is found in newer hardware and provides even stronger encryption, but you'll probably need to download an XP patch in order to use it. 

Use MAC filtering for Access Control

Unlike IP addresses, MAC addresses are unique to specific network adapters, so by turning on MAC filtering you can limit network access to only your systems (or those you know about). In order to use MAC filtering you need to find (and enter into the router) the 12-character MAC address of every system that will connect to the network, so it can be inconvenient to set up, especially if you have a lot of wireless clients or if your clients change a lot. MAC addresses can be "spoofed" (imitated) by a knowledgable person, so while it's not a guarantee of security, it does add another hurdle for potential intruders to jump.

Disable Remote Administration

Most Wireless routers have the ability to be remotely administered via the Internet. Ideally, you should use this feature only if it lets you define a specific IP address or limited range of addresses that will be able to access the router. Otherwise, almost anyone anywhere could potentially find and access your router. As a rule, unless you absolutely need this capability, it's best to keep remote administration turned off. (It's usually turned off by default, but it's always a good idea to check.)