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Wireless Networking

Protecting your wireless network

The web is just like the rest of the world. Most people you meet want to chat, explore and have fun together. Sadly, there are still a few people out there who see the web as an opportunity to get hold of your personal information to use for their own gain. Don’t disconnect your computer just yet, because, just like in the real world, as long as you keep your wits about you and follow our simple advice, you and your whole family can still have endless fun on the web.

How to protect your wireless network
Use encryption

The most common way to protect a wireless network is to enable the wireless router's built-in encryption options. Encryption means that the wireless signal is scrambled so that unauthorised computers and devices are unable to understand the data being transmitted across your wireless network. The computers and devices you want to be able to access your network are set up so that they can unscramble the wireless signal – meaning that you can connect to the wireless network without any problems.

There are two ways to encrypt your router’s signal – WEP and WPA. We recommend using WPA, and this is enabled by default on all Virgin Media wireless routers. There’s also an enhanced version of WPA, known as WPA2. This is even more secure than the previous version. WPA2 works on the latest wireless equipment and but both WPA and WPA2, combined with a unique passphrase, make it almost impossible for anyone unauthorised to gain access to your wireless network. For more information about WEP and WPA, see Wireless encryption options: WEP and WPA.

Disable broadcast of SSID

Every wireless router has a name, or Service Set Identifier (SSID), and this is what you and other users will see when scanning for available wireless networks. The list of names shown is all the  networks your computer or device is able to 'see'.

Every wireless router is preconfigured with its own SSID often found on the underside of the unit), but this can be changed manually after the wireless router has been set up. The default SSID for our older wireless routers was ‘Virgin Broadband’. If you use the new Virgin Media Hub or Super Hub – our combined modem and wireless routers for cable customers – the default SSID is 'virginmediaxxxxxxx', where each 'x' represents a digit.

One way of protecting your wireless network is to stop the transmission of your SSID. This makes your wireless network invisible to neighbours and other people might be within its reach. You should be able to connect more people to your network, but they’ll only be able to access it they know the SSID.

Stopping the broadcast of your SSID doesn’t guarantee that your wireless network is secure, and isn’t a substitute for using a strong encryption method (see above). But it can provide an extra layer of protection. A hacker with wireless ‘snooping’ software could still pick up on the signal being broadcast by your wireless router.

To disable the broadcast of your wireless router's SSID, you need to access your wireless router's administration interface. The details you’ll need are printed on the underside of your router or on the side of the Hub.

If you use the Virgin Media Hub, please follow this guide on how to disable the broadcast of the wireless network name (SSID).

If you use the Virgin Media Super Hub, please follow this guide on how to disable the broadcast of the wireless network name (SSID).

Set a password for your wireless router's administration interface

Most wireless routers have a default username and password that can be used to access a set of administration screens that control the behaviour and operation of the router. To reduce the chances of anyone other than you accessing this administration interface and changing the router's settings, you’ll need to change the default password.

To set the password for your wireless router's administration interface, you first need to access the interface using the default username and password, which should be printed on the base of your wireless router or on the side of the Hub.


If you use the new Virgin Media Hub, please follow this guide on how to change the administration interface password.

If you use the Super Hub, follow this guide.

Use MAC address-based access control

This is an advanced security option that allows computers and other devices to connect to a wireless network – but only if they have an authorised MAC address. This is a series of letters and numbers used to identify network devices. MAC addresses are usually written in pairs, with colons (or sometimes hyphens) as separators. For example, a MAC address could look like this:

04:1F:64:EF:A9:4D
or
04-1F-64-EF-A9-4D

Wireless routers can be instructed to allow connections only from a list of MAC addresses that you supply. To use this method, you need to gather together a list of all the MAC addresses of the computers and devices you wish to authorise on your wireless network, and enter the details into your wireless router's administration interface. To find out how to do this on your Super Hub, check How to I set up MAC filtering?.

To find out the MAC address of a Windows XP (or later) machine, follow these steps:

  1. Go to Start > Run.
  2. Type cmd and click OK.
  3. Type ipconfig /all and press Enter.
  4. Details of each installed adapter will be displayed. Look in the Physical Address section of your wireless adapter for the MAC address, written in the style above.

To find out the MAC address of a Mac OS X machine, follow these steps:

  1. Go to Mac HD > Applications > Utilities.
  2. Double-click Network Utility.
  3. Choose the network interface that relates to your wireless connection – if you're using built-in wireless technology, the option is likely to be labelled AirPort (en1).
  4. Look at the Hardware Address for the MAC address, written in the style above.

To find out the MAC addresses of other wireless-capable devices, consult the documentation that came with those devices. Some of these devices may have their MAC addresses printed on the case.

As with other security methods, it’s still possible for a hacker to gain access to MAC address-based access control. Nevertheless, each security feature you add protects your wireless network a little bit more.

Install a firewall

Using a firewall helps control the types of data that are permitted to enter and leave your computer and wireless network. Computers and networks that aren’t protected by firewalls are far less secure than those that are. Virgin Media Security includes a firewall. To find out more, check How to protect your computer.


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