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Hidden dangers of an unsecured wireless network.

Updated on April 24, 2015

Can people see what I am doing online?

When you are connected to a unsecured wireless network, there are hidden dangers involved that you may not have realized.

When connected to an open network, the data being transmitted through the air between the computer and the wireless router is not secured or scrambled up in any fashion. What that means is that a good portion of what you are doing online may be seen by others with the right tools and knowledge.

There are networking software tools available on the Internet, called packet sniffers, that can analyze the raw data inside transmitted data packets. If your wireless network was secure, the data inside the packets would make no sense. Unsecured, it is human readable.

Networking tools are great for network administrators to test and use on their networks. In the wrong hands, the tool can be used with bad intentions. Just like a kitchen knife in your house, it is a tool designed for good intentions but can be misused. Most people use networking software tools for good, honest reasons, but not all.

Emails can be read.

Regular email by default is not encrypted. If your wireless network is unsecured, personal information from the text inside the emails you have sent or received can be intercepted and read. If your wireless is not encrypted, you are providing yourself with no protection at all.

Think about this, often when you forget a password to a web site, you request a new one. The web site emails you that new password. Now prying eyes may have seen your new password.

Also think about private family emails or business emails.

Do you trust all of your surrounding neighbors and the car parked out in front?

Pictures can be seen.

Then there are programs such as Etherpeg or Driftnet that can be downloaded and create a live, ever changing collage of pictures being viewed or transmitted from a unsecured wireless network. Someone could even choose to have the collage of picutures from your connection set as their screen saver.

There would be no indication to you that it is even being done.

Are you creeped out yet? You should be.

An example of Etherpeg software and an unsecured wireless network connection.
An example of Etherpeg software and an unsecured wireless network connection.

Other dangers of an unsecured network.

Ease of connecting

It does not take any special skills, a computer programmer or even an IT professional to figure out how to connect to an open network.

Access to your personal data.

Do you have drives, folders or printers or a web cam shared on your network? If you are allowing others to easily connect to your wireless, you may be sharing personal data such as photos, documents, maybe even a web cam with unknown connected computers.

Access to your work place.

Do you connect to a VPN for work? Someone can easily join your open network and then use the secured VPN tunnel to access your work place as well. Many work at home jobs that use a VPN connection make it a condition of employment that you will not have wireless in your house because of this.

Parasitic loss of Bandwidth

You are paying for a certain bandwidth or speed, then you are allowing others to use a portion of it and slowing your connection.

Anonymity of the connected person

You do not know what the person connected to your router is searching for or transmitting online through your connection. You do not even know who they are or even their name. What if they using your Internet account to hack into websites or to do other illegal activity online?

Obviously someone doing illegal activities online would rather not use an Internet account their name. Hopefully they are not using yours, as all activity on your Internet account appears to come from within your house.

I am trying my best to scare you!

I am trying to convince you to secure your wireless network so that you do not become a victim. It is so easy to secure your network and takes so little time, There is really no excuse not to.

If you are not sure if your network is secure, you can easily tell by viewing the list of available wireless networks on a computer or wireless device within range of your wireless router. You should see a lock symbol or it mentioning WPA or WPA-2 next to the name of your wireless network. That shows your wireless network is secure.

If it shows WEP security, although a form of encryption, it is hardly secure at all. WEP has a known weakness and can be cracked very quickly. Then you are in the same situation as an unsecured network. If it is currently set to WEP, you would want to update to WPA or WPA-2. Both are more secure than WEP, and will increase wireless performance as well.


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