Router

If you have broadband you need one



Routers

When we used a dial-up connection to the Internet, security was not a significant problem. With today's "always on" broadband connections, security has become a major concern. This discussion applies only to broadband connections like DSL or cable modem connections. Many broadband connections come with a router built in to the modem.

If the box that came from the telephone company or cable company has more than one plug that looks like a wide telephone jack, chances are that you have a built in router.

This is what a DSL Modem/Router looks like from the back. Note the four Ethernet plugs in the center (this indicates a router), and the telephone connection at the left.

DSL router back

To check your computer's security, go to Hacker Watch for a free security check.

To secure your computer, the first thing you need is a router. Every router has a hardware firewall. A router is the only device to appear on the Internet, and the router is a dumb device with no important data. Without a router, your computer is on the Internet, and there is important data on it. There are software firewalls but they are not nearly as effective as a routers hardware firewall. The built in firewall in Windows XP is particularly ineffective.

A router is not expensive, and it's easy to connect. There are two basic types of routers: wired and wireless. A wired router may be purchased for as little as $10, while a wireless router for as little as $30. Every wireless router also has wired connections - usually 4 wired connections. For current prices, check MicroCenter, or your local office supply store.

A router connects with standard Ethernet connectors, sometimes called Category 5 Patch Cables. It simply connects between your cable or DSL modem and the computer. Some early modems connected with a USB connector instead of Ethernet. If you have one of these, call your DSL or cable provider and they will replace it. Many DSL modems have both USB and Ethernet connections. If yours is connected with USB but the modem has both USB and Ethernet connectors, you just need to find the original box - there will be an Ethernet cable in it, or you can buy one at any office supply store for about $5.

If you have a cable connection and a wired router, you're done. If you have DSL, there is one more step.

Since DSL uses your telephone line, there are more than one ISP's on the line. A DSL connection has to connect to the right ISP. You will have to uninstall the connection software that came with the DSL package and tell the router how to connect. To uninstall the connection software, click on "Start", click on "Settings", click on "Control Panel", click on "Add/Remove Programs". Find the software that came with DSL modem and remove it. To tell your router how to connect, bring up your web browser (usually Internet Explorer) and go to 192.168.1.1. That is the standard router address. If that address does not work, find the address of your router in the router manual. Also find the router password. You now need to define the connection type. It will be called DSL or PPPoE. Select that type of connection and enter your DSL account name and password from the paperwork that came with your DSL package. You're done for a wired router.

If you have a wireless router, there is another step.

Since a wireless router broadcasts a signal over the air, it should be secured through encryption. The signal can travel about 300 feet under ideal conditions. Also, the router password should be changed to prevent a hacker from taking over your router. Standard passwords are well known. If you choose not to secure the signal, someone could park in front of your house, and hack into your system or download hours of illegal music and you would be liable.

To secure your wireless router, you need to activate WEP, WPA, WPA2 or encryption. Every router is a bit different, so check the router manual for instructions. You can also turn off wireless operation and use the router as a wired router.

If you run wireless the signal should be encrypted with WEP or WPA.

Wireless or Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi is short for Wireless Fidelity. It is a group of Internet protocols that define how wireless connections operate. The standards are things like IEEE 802.11b, 802.11g or 802.11n. These standards incorporate things like transmission frequency and the contents and order of what is transmitted.

One of the ways to secure the transmission is to encrypt it, so that both sides need a common reference to scramble or unscramble the contents of the signal. Both the transmitter and the receiver must have an agreed to security set up. WEP (Wireless Encryption Protocol or WPA (Wireless Access Protocol) are the standards used. They both use hardware encryption technology. You can directly enter the security key or generate one through a passphrase. The passphrase is a phrase like "now I am secure". It is used to generate a hexadecimal security key. Every wireless device that attaches to the router has to have that security key.

When you run a wireless router and if do not encrypt the signal, you are providing a free access point to anyone driving past your house and your neighbors. You are also providing a free access point for someone to download hours of copyrighted music illegally, or an address to send out spam email. It is wise to encrypt any wireless signal.

To encrypt the wireless signal, use your web browser to access the router. Type the router's IP address 192.168.1.1. Go to the wireless menu and turn ON WEP or WPA. Then select a passphrase - like "my secure LAN" to generate an encryption key. Remember that passphrase - you will need it on every wireless device to access the router.

That's it - your wireless router is now secure.