When I turn on a wireless device in my apartment, I immediately find over twenty five wireless networks, all with strong signals. This is an example of how prevalent wireless Internet has become, but some of the networks I can find are not set up properly, making them insecure or unreliable.
Here are 10 avoidable mistakes that cause such WiFi woes.
Throw Away The Router’s Manual
The prevalence of plug-and-play equipment has made it possible for users to neglect or throw away hardware user manuals. This is mostly a good thing, but routers are an exception, as they usually require some configuration. Your router’s manual will provide details on how to access the administration panel, configure the firewall, change security options and reset the device if something goes wrong.
While you may think an online manual is all you need, this can short-sighted; a serious router problem will also knock you offline. Save a copy of the online manual to your PC at the very least.
Put Your Router By A Brick Wall
All forms of wireless communication are bound by certain physical limitations. One of these is the fact that dense objects block radio waves, which means you shouldn’t put your router next to a brick wall. Walls with piping, dense kitchen countertops and backsplashes, and metallic furniture can also cause issues, and placing your router on or next to them is a great way to reduce signal range and performance.
Instead, place your router on a plastic or wooden stand in a relatively open area with no major obstructions nearby. A large open space like the living room is usually best, but closets can work too if they’re free of the mentioned obstacles.
Forget To Create A Unique Network Name
Of the 25 networks in my apartment complex, ten of them use very similar network names, such as HOME8435. Some of my family members do the same thing, which mean visits inevitably involve a discussion about whether their network is HOME 8345, HOME8411, or HOME8409.
Theoretically this could be a security issue because similar network names are easier for ne’re-do-wells to mimic. Inserting an open network called HOME 8354 among the above group, for example, might pick up users who connect to it on accident.
In reality, that’s unlikely because most home users connect a device to their home network once and then save the network in the device’s memory, but picking a unique network name does help if you have a friend with tablets.
Use The Default Passwords
Routers always have a default administration password from the factory. This password will be listed in the manual. Many users keep the default because the admin panel is theoretically accessible only by a user already connected, so who cares if it’s secure?
However, routers aren’t flawless, and there are ways for your home network to be accessed, either by guessing your password, or exploiting a flaw in the router remotely. If your network is compromised, easy access to your router’s administration panel will only make things worse. Changing the default password is a must.
Don’t Turn On WiFi Encryption
I feel like this one shouldn’t have to be said, but we’re talking about mistakes, and this is a big one. Not setting up WiFi encryption leaves your network open to anyone who might want to sniff your traffic and also will leave open any network drives you use.
The solution is pretty simple; turn on encryption. Remember that manual you didn’t throw away? It will tell you how.
Set Up The Wrong WiFi Encryption
Turning on encryption isn’t as simple as flipping a switch. Most routers come with several WiFi encryption options, but won’t say which option is the best. Routers may even default to WEP, an old and insecure standard, or list it at the top of the drop-down box. WEP is better than nothing, but it’s not very secure.
Go with WPA2-AES instead and use a long, highly randomized password. This is the most secure WiFi encryption standard that’s practical for home users, and increasing the length of the password makes a brute force attack against your network more difficult (though not impossible).
Mix The Wrong Adapters And Routers
Routers and adapters are almost always backwards compatible with older versions of WiFi. 802.11ac, the newest standard, works with 802.11n, which works with 802.11g. In fact, most modern adapters support all but the very first version of the 802.11 standard, which is well over a decade old.
Still, mixing the wrong adapters and routers is a problem if you care about performance. An 802.11ac adapter will only function at 802.11n speeds if paired with an 802.11n router. If you have an old 802.11g router, network performance will be slower still.
There’s nothing wrong with using an old version of the 802.11 standard if you find it adequate, but don’t upgrade your adapter without upgrading your router, or vice-versa. Doing so is a waste of time and money.
Neglect The Firewall
The firewall built in to home routers is one of its most valuable features. In most cases it is enabled by default, and it can protect against a wide variety of intrusion attempts with little to no configuration.
That doesn’t mean you should neglect it, however. You may need to open up ports so software can function, or certain ports may be configured as open by default to enable router features. Check in on these ports and, if you aren’t actually using them, close them. Doing so closes off an unlikely, but possible, avenue of attack.
Enter Incorrect Configuration Information
What was that IP address supposed to be? Hmm, perhaps it was 192.168.0.1, or was it 220.127.116.11? Time to look at the manual again!
This is the WiFi equivalent of checking to make sure the power cord is plugged in. If something is wrong – you can’t access the admin panel, a computer isn’t connecting, a firewall port is still blocking World of Warcraft, whatever – go over your numbers. Did you put the decimal in the right place? Probably not, because you’re not a robot.
Forget To Update Firmware
I’ve already made some allusions to router security flaws. They’re a serious issue. Earlier this year some ASUS routers were found to contain an exploit that made connected network drives visible to anyone on the Internet who knew one weird trick.
In that case, updating firmware wouldn’t have helped because ASUS had yet to address the issue. Now, however, a patch is in place. If you’ve downloaded it, you’re fine, but if you haven’t, the Internet can still see your dirty laundry. Updating firmware is boring, but forgetting to do it is a big mistake.
These are only the ten most common errors users make when setting up their home network. There are plenty more. Let us know the problems you encountered when setting up your own WiFi by leaving a comment below.