Securing Your Internet Access

The default setup when you configure your home network and connect it to the internet is not going t be very secure. If you use wifi either to connect your local network together or for your internet connection then the default transmissions will likely be in plain text that anyone can read. At one time Google was in the news for capturing a lot of information from insecure wifi as they drove down streets taking photos for their streetview application. All this demonstrated is that most people do not implement even the simplest security measures on their network.

So what are the risks associated with not securing your wifi apart from Google having read fragments of your data as they drove past? Well an unencrypted wifi connection not only allows people to read the traffic already on the connection, they can connect to the network themselves and use your internet connection instead of obtaining their own. So the first step is to secure your wifi. To secure your wifi you need to change the settings in your router. You can find out how to do this for your particular router by looking in the manual that came with the router (or finding an online copy). To secure the router you need to change the username and password that is used to access the settings from the router default to something only you know. You also need to change the SSID name to a unique value that makes it more obvious which is your wifi network. Some routers also allow you to turn off SSID broadcasting so that you can have the SSID hidden most of the time. You would only need to unhide it temporarily while connecting a new device for the first time. Finally, you need to enable network encryption. This involves turning on WPA2 and setting up a passphrase that will need to be entered into each device when it first connects to your network. A further layer of security can be set by enabling MAC address filtering which will only allow specific devices access to the network.

So with your wifi network secure you can be fairly certain that only those you allow access to your network will be able to use your network to access the internet. The rest of the security measures we need to consider relate specifically to the internet. There are lots of ways that others on the internet can track what you are doing on the internet. If we want to maintain our privacy then we will need to block some of the methods that can be used. Just what extent we need to go to will depend on just what level of privacy you require. As the privacy measures usually make the internet less convenient to use (slower and needing more inputs) we need to select the measures that make us secure enough without inconveniencing ourselves too much.

A couple of ways that we can be tracked on the internet are cookies and ads. Often these two are used together with third party cookies being used to track which ads to show you. To sort this out you need an anti-spyware program that can scan your computer to look for any tracking cookies and remove them. At the same time this software will detect and remove any other software that is known to capture information about your computer use.

A less accurate way of tracking someone but which is also harder to block is the IP address allocated to you by your ISP to provide you with internet access. Even if the ISP provides a dynamic IP address that changes over time they can track what address you have at what time. As that IP address is being broadcast across the internet in order to identify where the information you request is to be sent to, this can be used in some cases to identify who requested what. Generally only your ISP would have enough information to be able to provide this identification and only if they log the information at the time. With a shortage of IPv4 addresses some ISPs now use address translation so that many users can be sharing a single IP address and then identifying a specific user from the IP address becomes impossible.

If you are concerned about being tracked by your IP address then there are further security measures you can take. If it is only web access that you are concerned about making more secure then TOR provides a web browser with serious privacy measures built in. The TOR network also means that all of your web requests are passed through an encrypted network and only become readable to the rest of the internet at some distant point where a completely different IP address is being used that can't be tracked back to you. The disadvantage of this is that all of your web requests will run much more slowly as they will br routed via a variety of locations all over the world.

An alternative that can be used for all of your internet traffic is to install a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This effectively creates a local network between your computer and some remote location by encrypting all of the content passing over the internet between those two points. This is an essential tool for businesses that have more than one work location to allow their staff to share information between locations as if they were all on the same local network. With businesses, both ends of the VPN will be in their work locations and will not change. For others trying to obtain privacy on the internet the VPN service will provide a number of servers all over the world that can be connected to so that you can spread your internet access across a number of locations making it much harder to match up all of the requests to an individual.


This article written by Stephen Chapman, Felgall Pty Ltd.

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