How secure is the wireless router that you use at home to send online content through the air?

Although it’s commonly known that you need to protect the router with a password to prevent neighbors from borrowing your Internet connection, cyberthieves can easily circumvent these passwords if they are improperly configured.

If these cyberthieves—known as “sniffers” or “war drivers”—are within range of your Wi-Fi signal, typically 100 yards, they can send and/or download information over your connection once they breach your security. They also can use eavesdropping software to snoop through your e-mail…get the credit card numbers that you enter into Web sites…and get the user name and password you type in at your bank’s Web site.

If your computer’s hard drive isn’t protected by special software, sniffers even can use your Internet connection to access your data files.

To protect yourself…

Consult the owner’s manual for your wireless router or call your Internet provider and ask for a technician to walk you through setting up a few security options. These options normally are left unactivated by the router’s manufacturer, and most people don’t bother to turn them on.

Turn on WPA2 encryption or better. The old standard WEP encryption is easy to breach.

Set up MAC addressing. This is a bit complicated, so if you can’t figure it out through your owner’s manuals, you may have to call a technician. This tool allows only computers that you specifically designate to access your wireless connection.

Protect your hard drive by enabling the firewall. Both Windows-based and Apple Macintosh–based computers come with this software. It acts like an entryway lock that prevents other Internet users from accessing your hard drive.

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