Locking Home Wireless Down

I’m one of a dozen people on my block who have wireless routers running in my house.  I’ve lived there eight years, and have had wireless almost the entire time.  I run a house full of computers from my router, including ones for the kids, my husband, a print server, a media server, and a handful of laptops.  From the first minute, my wireless has been locked down.  I recently had to replace my aging (and failing) Linksys, and had to reconfigure our SSID, passwords and the PXE firewall I’ve run.  I’ve never considered leaving that access point open for any reason.

Over the last five years, as more of my neighbors set up wireless routers in their homes, I found more and more ways to get on the Internet without using my own connection.  For me, it was just seeing if I could do it, then I’d disconnect and go back to my own router.  If I could identify the neighbor in question, I would approach them and offer to help them lock down their wireless so that it wasn’t open to anyone driving by or living nearby.  I tried my best to explain to them that having an open wireless access point was a danger to them and their families.  I usually got through to them, and now find very few of my neighbors with open wireless.  In fact, there’s only one, and I haven’t been able to figure out who it is.  The signal is pretty weak, which means they may not even be on my block.

For those that haven’t locked down their wireless, perhaps they need a more concrete example of why they should.  In New York, there have been several examples of persons with open wireless networks being accused of trafficking in child pornography amongst other things.  They were either frustrated at trying to set the security on their wireless networks, or didn’t know they needed to do so.  There seemed to be no reason to work at locking their networks down.  After all, they knew their neighbors, or thought they did, right?

It would be helpful if the process to lock down wi-fi wasn’t so complex, and if the instructions weren’t written in IT-ese.  Being a geek, I understand all of the mumbo-jumbo that comes in those instructions.  There is no consistent way to set the SSID and passwords/passcodes since there are so many different routers on the market, and for a standard user to have to open in a browser and type in a series of numbers 1xx.xx.xx.xxx to get to their router then pick a password and make it hard enough to not be crackable is just asking a lot.  I know some of the routers from AT&T (for their DSL service) come with the passcode on a sticker on the bottom of the router, and the user is supposed to use that.  Seems real secure in this day and age, huh?

Of course, there is always the neighborhood geek to do it for you.  Sometimes we’ll set your router up for you for free, or for a beer.  I know that’s my usual form of payment.  I feel it’s my duty to make sure my neighbors are protecting themselves when it comes to their technology.  I sure don’t want to see the FBI knocking down their doors in the middle of the night!  As a geek, are you helping your neighbors lock down their wireless?