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Uprotected wireless routers can open you up to hackers, ID theft

1:25 PM, Dec 20, 2012   |    comments
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CITRUS HEIGHTS, CA - We hear it all the time, somebody's identity being stolen or someone being hacked, but most people's reactions are, "that won't be me."

However, with today's wireless technology, you have no idea how easy it is for you to become a victim of those crimes.

To prove it, stay-at-home mom Jennifer Baker agreed to a hack-test. Unfortunately, Internet security never really crossed her mind.

"I had just figured that we were secured," Baker said.

To prove her wrong, I asked a man who I'm calling Tim to hack into Baker's wireless internet connection.

Tim set up outside Baker's home, and was able get in in less than 10 minutes. He could do it that quickly because Baker's router was set to WEP security, which is the lowest form of wireless security that millions of people still use.

"It'll be able to assemble the entire key," Tim said.

In less than 10 minutes, a hacker could see files on shared networks, credit card information and more.

"We'd be in a world of trouble," Baker said. "We can't get that money back. We only have one income and it's military and it's not a whole lot. So if it's gone it's gone."

To prove how easy it really is, Tim set up in an apartment complex and identified dozens of networks he could crack in minutes.

There are two main types of wireless router security, WEP and WPA. WPA is the best; it would take a hacker days or even months to crack it.

So, what do you do?

Check your router security settings, News10's IT Specialist Greg Meyer said.

HOW TO: Change your router settings

"It's a jungle out there on the Internet," Meyer said. "It's the wild west. It's everything that you've heard of and worse."

You also need to check the settings on routers provided by Internet providers. I checked the router at my home, which is provided by SureWest and found it was set to WEP. It turns out, many providers use that lower security setting.

I even had to call SureWest to have them change the security setting to WPA.

It's also important to know how things have changed. Not so long ago, we were worried about viruses taking over our computers. While those are still important, now hackers want to be in your system and secretly steal your information.

"Being undetectable is the key," Nerds on Call's Merl Valles said. "The same reason robbers wear black clothes, they don't want to be known."

Valles came to fix Baker's security holes, but also gave another tip: Change default passwords.

Remember that password you need to get into your router's settings? A lot of those are default and easy to guess.

"The easiest thing you can do is secure yours with a WPA or higher and take away the default passwords on your devices," Valles said.

If you're really unsure about how to check your security settings, you might want to call a professional. You can also purchase a new router; Meyer said you only need the $50 model.

"They're not that expensive, and how much is your security worth to you?" Meyer said. "One instance of that stolen credit card number or any other kind of personal information can be financially devastating to a person. It's worth it to protect yourself."

By Nick Monacelli,


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