Dangers of public wifi — and how to stay safe

When it comes to the dangers of public wifi, many people tend to take one of two extreme approaches. Some don’t give it a thought at all. Some refuse to use it at all. Neither approach is completely practical. So what are the dangers of public wifi, and how can you avoid them?

Here are the dangers and the precautions to take against them.

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Why MAC address filtering doesn’t help security

The other question that came out of my recommended DD-WRT settings was why not filter MAC addresses. I hate to be flip, but MAC address filtering doesn’t help, so why bother?

The reason is because your MAC addresses are broadcast as part of the network traffic, and it’s unencrypted. So your MAC addresses aren’t any secret at all. So it doesn’t do any good. One could argue it doesn’t do any harm. But it adds an extra step every time you put something on your wireless network. Why go to the inconvenience if you don’t gain anything from it?

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Recommended DD-WRT settings

Recommended DD-WRT settings

I’ve been asked a few times now for my recommended DD-WRT settings, or at least my good-enough settings. I think that’s a great idea, so I’ll walk through how I configure a DD-WRT router. Follow these steps and I can almost guarantee you’ll have the most secure network on your block.

For the purposes of this tutorial, I am going to assume you are configuring DD-WRT as your primary router.

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Build the best, most secure wifi in your neighborhood

My neighbor asked me for advice on setting up wi-fi in his new house. I realized it’s been a while since I’ve written about wi-fi, and it’s never been cheaper or easier to blanket your house and yard with a good signal.

Blanketing your house and yard while remaining secure, though, is still important.

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Don’t use personal information as your wifi network name

This weekend Lifehacker advised against using things like your name and address as your wifi network name or SSID–if you’re targeted for attack, it makes you that much easier to find when your wifi name is your name or address.

When I set up a wifi network, I usually set the name to the time of day. That way the network name ends up just being a meaningless, useless number, with no clues as to who owns it, or who the broadband provider is. Clever names draw attention, and you don’t want to draw attention.

Let’s talk about two other common security measures that you probably shouldn’t do.

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Eliminate wifi dead spots using access points

I’ve said before how to eliminate wifi dead spots, but perhaps I didn’t give it the focus it deserves. I think almost everyone has wifi dead spots in their house that they would like to eliminate. It turns out you can do it, and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune either.

The idea is to supplement your existing router with one or two additional access points. Read more

How to be a hero next Christmas (or your next family get-together)

My mother in law didn’t have wifi set up, but she picked up a smart TV this year, so she asked me if I could help her with it. So I picked up a D-Link DIR-615 on sale, brought it with me and set up wi-fi securely (hints: set the SSID to whatever time it happens to be, disable WPS, disable WEP and WPA, and use WPA2 with a long password with some numbers and symbols in it) and once it seemed to be working right, I put her TV and laptop on it. Then, as other relatives trickled in, they asked me for the wireless key. Soon the air was full of Androids and Apples chattering away on wireless.

She said she never realized how often we use our smartphones and tablets. Any time a question came up, someone whipped out a device and looked up the answer.It was nice, and it was a cheap project. Grab a name-brand wireless router on sale, grab a couple of extra CAT5e cables from Monoprice just in case, and you can be a hero for about the cost of dinner for two at any restaurant with sit-down table service. Maybe less.

While you’re ordering stuff from Monoprice, it probably wouldn’t hurt to pick up a small assortment of cheap USB and HDMI cables too, just in case anyone gave an electronic gadget to someone else and didn’t realize gadgets are more likely to come with batteries than with cables these days.

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