With wireless routers becoming the norm, security is becoming an increasing concern for users. Protecting your router with a WEP key or hiding your router’s ID (SSID) are two basic measures you can take but they’re not impossible to crack. One way hackers break WEP codes is by ‘sniffing’ data streams from your router for long periods of time until they have enough data to crack your code. So how do you know if someone has managed to hook into your connection?
Although all router admin systems differ, they key is to look at the router’s DHCP table. Here, you will see the name of each machine connected (host name) and most importantly, the MAC address, the IP address and the expiry time of the IP lease. If you see an entry (other than your own computer) listed on there, then someone else is using your connection.
The important number is the MAC (Media Access Control) address which, unlike IP addresses that are administered dynamically everytime someone connects, remain unique to that machine. Most routers will enable you to block MAC addresses but be careful. Sometimes, hackers can cleverly mask themselves with your own MAC address in which case, the only way you will know it’s not your computer is from the host name given to the machine. If you block the MAC address and it does turn out to be yours, you’ll end up locking yourself out of your router with no other option but to reset it and start reconfiguring it from scratch.
If you don’t fancy tinkering around with your router, there are a few programs out there to help you too. One option is the sleek looking Active Security Monitor which can alert you to suspected attacks and foreign invaders. However, it’s a rather catch-all product which only takes a superficial look at your wireless security as it also pays heavy attention to the effectiveness of your anti-virus software and firewall.
More tailor made for Wireless connections is Lucidlink Wireless LAN Security which wins full marks for ease of use. If you’re totally intimidated by any kind of router administration, this is a good option because it enables you to apply encryption to your network without touching the admin interface. However, it doesn’t really offer anything in terms of increased security – it just makes life easier.
Finally, if you’re looking for something which is focused solely on MAC activity, then try AirSnare. AirSnare will alert you immediately if it detects foreign MAC addresses trying to access your router and logs all DHCP requests. This tool can help you identify the true IP address of a hacker who has masked themselves under your IP.
However, there will always be some determined “sniffers” out there that will circumvent these utilities, in which case, the best thing to do is throw your router away and go back to dial-up.