Okay… so maybe that headline comes across as click-bait… But it is probably happening, particularly if you live in a city.
This brief post comes from one of this week’s repairs, which turned into more a case of technology dos and don’ts training.
Most wifi routers that you pick up off the shelf at an electronics or department store have a basic username and password…
And here’s why…
I received a call this week from a very nice lady who has very little technology experience. After a storm, her Internet went down for a few days. She called the cable company who told her that they had experienced a line breakage and that they would get it fixed as soon as possible. When she called back in a few days, they told her that the issue had been repaired and attempted to help her get reconnected. She did all that they asked, at which point they told her that the problem was on her end and that she had probably had a lightning strike nearby that had destroyed her router. They told her to get a new one.
I arrived and conducted my usual survey, asking about time frames, etc; then began to examine her hardware in place. Everything showed the proper lights… Nothing smelled of ozone or in the slightest bit off (So this wasn’t an electrical surge issue).
Upon connecting to her router, I found a mess. Most of the settings had been changed from what would be considered standard. And all had been changed the day after the initial Internet issues. Now… from what I could gather from the lady, she had done exactly what was instructed by the cable company and no more. I completely believed her, and in fact, think that someone else changed her settings without even realizing it…
Her Wireless Network was named “NETGEAR.” Her router username was “admin.” Her router password was “admin.” And, she had no security password on the wireless network itself. OR… they were the universal basic out-of-the-box setup.
The most likely scenario is that someone else thought they were on their own network, since I was able to pick up two other intermittent signals also called “NETGEAR.” And she lived in a very rural area with few neighbors. This is possible because of the MUCH stronger signals that new routers put out, and the “directional beaming technology,” which can target a signal directly between a router and laptop or mobile device. However, you don’t necessary need a new router for this to occur. It can happen accidentally, when a signal becomes trapped between metal surfaces and bounces about in such a way that it becomes focused like a laser beam. (This is my belief in this instance, since I found only one or two very specific locations where I could find these signals, and in one position it was a full signal as if I was standing next to the router.)
In a city this scenario is MUCH MUCH more likely.
Regardless, after changing all the router settings I set the network as one should…
- I changed the network name from NETGEAR to something memorable and unique
- I changed the router password from “admin” to a phrase that she would definitely remember
- I added WPA security to the wireless network and made the password an easy to remember phrase
Bonus…. She could return the new router that she had purchased at the direction of the cable company because she didn’t need it.
So… is someone stealing from you? Possibly. But this isn’t the only reason to check and change your wifi settings. The best reason is simple prevention. It is easy to get onto a non-protected wireless stream, which may disrupt your Sex in the City Marathon binge watch (and no, I don’t recommend that you watch this), or may interrupt your email to Ikea about that table that was missing 6 screws (nope… don’t recommend buying one of those), or it may cause you an hour long conversation with your ISP (Internet Service Provider) which results in a trip to Wal-mart for a new router (definitely don’t recommend going there).