Let’s face it, having wireless Internet in our home has become a necessity. As with just about everything in our digital age, the convenience does come with security and privacy risks. Here’s a roundup of common security pitfalls and the initial steps you can take today to make your network more secure.


Problem: People can steal your bandwidth.

Your neighbor, your neighbor’s guests, that car passing by – their devices can see your wireless signal. People have been known to “piggyback” on connections – when someone accesses your WiFi this can affect your connection’s speed and even end up costing you in the long run.

Solution: Change your default SSID so that your network cannot be easily guessed by others and create a strong password for it. Have fun with it. Never use your own name. One of the best ones I have seen was called “Surveillance Van“.

Problem:Your wireless connection has too wide a range.

Solution: You can decrease your signal range by modifying your router’s mode to 802.11g from 802.11n or 802.11b. Many access points allow you to decrease the amount of power it is transmitting with. If you want to make physical modifications, you can redirect your router’s signal directly to your computer by using aluminum foil to send the signal to a single direction.

Problem: Your router appears on your neighbor’s available wireless connections.

Solution: Disable SSID broadcast. This way, the only way guests can access your wireless connection is when you provide your network’s name to them.

Problem: You’re worried your files are easily penetrable through your wireless network.

Having an unsecure network gives third party users access to your precious data, which gives them full access to a lot of your personal information and confidential files.

Solution: One of the recommended security options you can take is change your wireless encryption to WPA or WPA2, which are considered much more secure than WEP. There are many programs out there that can bypass WEP encryption very easily. You may also restrict access to only trusted devices by filtering to certain Media Access Control (MAC) addresses.

When you have wireless enabled on your network, be very aware that the security of your network is no longer contained within the physical walls of your home. It is possible for people to be connected to your own network without you being aware. Ignorance is not an excuse. You must educate yourself or get help from someone else to lock things down as best as possible.

37 Comments
  1. Some very good tips here. I’m almost embarrassed to say that a number of yeas ago I was that neighbor doing the piggybacking! I’d just moved into a new block and realized I had perfect WiFi provided by a neighbor that hadn’t sorted out his security settings.

    I did eventually sort out my own WiFi, but when I moved again I found myself again with “free WiFi”, this time from an overpriced cafe across the road – I felt a bit less guilty about that one. In subsequent years I’ve played it by the book, as it’s not really the way you should play it, but I’ve also noticed that people have become more sensitive to the risk and have tightened up their security.

    • Haha I am currently piggybacking right now. 😉 I really need to purchase my own WiFi, but why should I whenever I have perfectly good WiFi from the house beside me? I am pretty sure they know and are ok with it though, they are nice people.

      • Being a former protagonist I can’t really pretend to be whiter than white. But these days I’d probably be a bit annoyed if I found out someone was using my WiFi. I guess it’s more down to broader issues about internet security rather than the simple issue of piggybacking.

        • Yeah, I suppose that is true. But in my opinion, if they are going to leave their WiFi network open, then they are pretty much inviting individuals to piggy back off of it. I do see where the security issue can come into place, but if they take appropriate measures then it won’t really be an issue.

        • Thats how I feel. If people were just using connection to browse the internet I wouldn’t care who used it. I’m more concerned that people will use it for illegal downloads or to try and connect to my computers. I don’t want people snooping around inside my files and I feel like thats a pretty big risk for open wifis.

  2. Once I realized that you could easily pick up WiFi connections that are open as opposed to secure, I made sure to immediately secure mine with a strong password. My WiFi network is safe and I’m at an ease of mind not having to worrying about my bandwidth being piggybacked, speed being affected, files being penetrated or any other possible cases. These are all some great tips to apply to further the security I’ve already put in place though. It’s also informative for people looking to secure their own WiFi networks. You’re always better safe than sorry.

  3. More people should be aware of this. When I’m in the car with someone driving down the street, my phone numerously prompts me about open wifi networks. I may admit it is hard to resist open wifi when your currently using data. My wifi network uses WPA2 security and has a 16 digit long password. So it is hard to crack my wifi and I have a firewall on all of my computers too. So I’m fairly protected as of now.

    • My iPhone used to do that, too. It automatically lets me know of open wifi networks. I wasn’t aware of how it does that, but it is a smartphone.

  4. I actually didn’t know that you could prevent your SSID from showing up in the list! I loved the “surveillance van” name you listed. I had a neighbor who used to have his listed as “the bat mobile.” But, yeah, I’m definitely going to go ahead and prevent my SSID from broadcasting. I haven’t had any issues with people using my wifi (that I know of) but I don’t really want to take the chance!

    • The only time that hiding the SSID might not be so good is when people come over and want to connect. We hid the SSID to our WiFi network for a short period of time, but eventually turned it back on when so many friends/family were having trouble connecting to it.

      I found that bit about your neighbors SSID to be quite hilarious. 🙂

    • I didn’t know that either, but in my current situation I can’t do that. My parents pay for the internet and would not like their said disappearing. When I get my own place everything is going to be on lockdown.

    • Funny SSIDs are always fun to come across when you’re wandering around a new neighborhood.

  5. My mom’s paranoid, and I’ve basically put her network on complete lockdown, except for MAC filtering. We’ve disabled SSID broadcasting, used WPA2, created an extremely long password that’s over 16 characters long, and would take millennia to crack with today’s technology. The only reason I didn’t put on MAC filtering is because my parents usually do have a lot of guests over, so for them to manually change the router settings every time would be kinda annoying.

  6. Thanks for this write up! I didn’t have any idea what most of these things were… much less how they actually posed a threat. It’s a lot of work to secure yourself but beyond worth it.

  7. Good tips. These will definitely add security to my home internet. The thing with piggybacking. I never actually did it, but I always used a password for it. The only thing I did wrong was use the WEP encryption. Thankfully, no one near me was tech savvy enough to “hack” into my system.

    One new thing I learned is the disable SSID broadcast. I better check out how.

    • A friend of mine did piggybacking, WEP encryption seems so easy to crack! Everytime e went to this place he’d open this app and start cracking a connection. He had ”free” internet during his whole stay. He couldn’t do that with connections using WPA2 encryption.

  8. Thanks for the reminder to go over my network security. I don’t think I’ve looked into it since I set it up. I live in an apartment building so I don’t want other people accessing my network. I am usually surprised by how many unprotected accounts there are.

    • Yeah, I’d be so worried if I had a WEP encryption, those are actually very common where I live! A friend of mine had an app he could use to crack those so easily, I watched him doing it and couldn’t help but to feel thankful to be using a WPA2 encryption.

  9. Thanks for the tips. WPA 2 should be the standard available to most modern routers, there is no reason not to secure your wifi with it!

    The SSID broadcasting tip was something I didn’t know. I definitely will be using it to drive away piggybackers 😛

  10. Thank you! Very good tips right there, but sadly I don’t know how to do some of the things mentioned in the article, because I’m not a tech savvy person, not at all. Probably my SO can help me tho. I have a strong password, so hopefully I’m safe, but the internet guys made the huge mistake of using our family name to identify our connection.

  11. I have piggybacked before. Someone had linksys connection up for almost an entire year. Didn’t get any complaints about it, and now I have an open connection as well. Most of the neighbors here have there own wifi I guess, because I don’t think anybody’s touched mine yet. As far as security, the residents around here are all old and probably not trying to steal my personal information, plus the connection doesn’t broadcast that far.

  12. WiFi security is specifically important in large cites. I find it best to use a unique string as the router SSID because people are less likely to press it for no reason. It’s also important that you don’t connect to any shady wifi networks on your own devices, expect for the ones you see at internet cafes.

  13. My father is having the same problem. He does not know how to set a password for his wifi at home. He is with hughesnet so it is not a regular wifi router that you buy in stores. He has called the company but they are no help to him. The people who live around him steady jumps on it at night and during the day and uses up his GB.

  14. I had a problem where my neighbor set up their wi fi to a similar frequency of mine and had to change it. I didn’t know I could hide my wi fi from people who are not guests though, I need to do that.

  15. I used to be generous with my connection. I don’t put password on my wifi because I thought people aren’t really that savvy when it comes to the Internet and I figured it’s okay to have other people connect and check in once in a while but some of them are just really abusive freeloads.

  16. I used to connect to my neighbors unsecured wifi once when I run into some trouble with mine for almost a month. The good thing is that my neighbor really cared for wifi security and lucky for him, I’m not an abusive ass, but I did notice that some of his files are available on the network which is really scary so I told him to do something about it. Those kinds of nonchalance can be really deadly.

  17. Now that i read this post i am once again truly inspired to get up and check my modem and router settings. Most people take their internet connection for granted and don’t care to look at the inner workings of their hardware. Piggybacking on the neighbor internet might seem nice and dandy until your privacy is compromised. Then the jokes on you!

  18. The main problem here (that I’ve seen in my local neighborhood since I moved here about a month ago) is that not everyone uses WPA/WPA2 and there are still many people using WEP. You can tell that this is a problem of not knowing enough about computers, I’m guessing because this area more urban than the large city I used to live in. Anyways, there are 3-4 AP’s around me using WEP, which can easily be cracked in 5 minutes. If you’re not using WPA2 with, fix that now.

  19. I actually don’t see this problem as often as I used to when WiFi just came out. It’s more of a rare happening than anything. I kind of miss the old days where if your internet wasn’t working then you could just ‘borrow’ from your neighbor. Now it’s like everyone has WiFi protection, not that that is a bad thing (usually).

  20. I agree that we need to educate ourselves first before asking for help. But I don’t think we should just jump in for a certification in this field. The internet services provider has some basic idea on the common issues we might be facing, but if we don’t know the frequently asked questions and the terms being used we might have a hard time pointing them on to the real problem. Great services provider would be on the issue even before they happen.

  21. If your home network doesn’t have a lot of transient devices and guests, you might want to consider simply disabling your SSID broadcast. It isn’t a super secure method to lock down your network, but it certainly helps aid in obscuring the fact that your network is there.

    It’ll deter the vast majority of people just scanning around for an open or weakly protected network. Beyond that, reducing the signal power is a great tip. That being said, I’ve found that most consumer routers have more difficulty getting to the edges of your property than overextending. This is doubly true in high density areas where signal and channel contention gets crazy.

  22. I have been researching all the ways I can protect our wifi for a while now but it’s funny that no one said have the tips that you did! I hate that there are so many scammers out there who would rather use other people’s things instead of getting their own or just simply asking for permission.

  23. As mentioned by techbeast34, the best way to secure your network (after all those tips) is to ALSO enable Mac filtering. But it’s a chore.

    The quickest way to do it is by reseting your router (to make sure that only your device will be connected right after) and, well, connect your devices to it right after the reset. Then, AFTER they are connected and authorised, most routers have a “allow already connected devices” option somewhere near their MAC filtering options. By enabling this you instantly a) allow connection for all your already connected devices and b) filter out all other devices. With one click.

    If you need to add more devices afterwards, though, that’s a whole different story. You either have to find and enter their MAC address manually or disable MAC filtering and repeat from scratch.

  24. These are some pretty good tip. I had never even considered disabling SSID broadcasting but it honestly seems like one of the most obvious (and secure) things to do. We tend to use some pretty random SSID names which we actually change on a monthly basis along with the passcode.

    Honestly I don’t think many people are going to have many problems with Router signals extending too far. Most ISP provided modem/router combos offer a pretty weak signal and barely over the house let alone reaching into the neighbors.

  25. I live near a public park, so keeping my Wi- Fi signal protected is a necessity. My internet provider blocked my signal when I was hooked up, so no one could use my Wi-Fi . Always check your settings just to make sure nothing is open to the public. The best offense is a good defense.

  26. Thanks for the tips! I’ve never heard of the term “piggyback”. I just thought that the neighbours were just taking advantage of the free internet available. Would it be possible if you could post an article about extending your router’s wifi signal? I’ve tried multiple tutorials but I wanted proper advice from an expert.

  27. I personally have never piggybacked on others WiFi, or been piggybacked on, as others seem to have, but it seems like a big issue. I wouldn’t say it’s horrible as long as they aren’t doing anything illegal or using up an absurd amount of bandwidth when you have a cap, but it shouldn’t be done. If you were going to piggyback, why not just talk to that neighbour and maybe sort out a small price to pay so you can sleep easier at night.

    Something I noticed in this list is you recommended adjusting your router settings to 802.11g to prevent your signal from going too far. I’m pretty sure that reduces your internet speed.

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