Some Internet Loopholes You May Need To Plug
A couple of years
I wrote about the ups and downs of wireless Internet
in your home, however it's a topic that I feel is too important to not revisit
on a regular basis. In that previous article, I warned that if you have recently
purchased a wireless router so that you can enjoy the convenience of doing some
work at home on the sofa or so the kids can play interactive games on their Xbox
360 without running wires to the family room, you may have inadvertently opened
an easily accessed portal for other Internet activities.
The good news is
more people are securing their routers and putting passwords in place on their
Internet connections. Doing so prevents you becoming an unwitting accomplice in
distributing pornographic emails or downloading illegal movies. These things,
and many other privacy and financial concerns, can happen if your wireless
Internet connection is unsecured. Your neighbor or even someone parked in front
of your home would be able to use your connection for possible inappropriate and
even illegal activities.
It's also important
to recognize that your "unlimited" Internet connection isn't the all-you-can-eat
buffet you may think it is. Almost all Internet service providers have a limit
buried in the fine print of your service agreement. If you exceed this limit,
your service may be slowed down, cut off or you might incur additional charges.
That's why even if you intentionally decide to share your connection with the
apartment next door, you are opening yourself up to various liability issues.
Assuming you have
activated the encryption and password capabilities on your new wireless router,
there are a few other loopholes that may allow the use of either your Internet
connection or Internet enabled devices in your home in ways you didn't intend.
Getting back to the
neighbors, you will want to check to see their connection is secured. If
you have an open connection next door that reaches into your home, many barriers
and controls that you have tried to enable to keep your kids safe online might
be defeated. For example, if you have determined the PlayStation 3 won't be able
to connect online, and the only method you have used to ensure this is to not
make your wireless password available, an open connection next door totally
defeats this plan.
The situation is
made worse with the plethora of portable Internet connected devices your kids
may be carrying in their pockets. If someone in your family has purchased a
flashy iTouch music player to replace their old iPod, you need to know this
device is virtually as capable on the Internet as a full-blown computer. It's
web browser is capable of surfing to any website -- including many you may be
very concerned about. If you haven't taken actions to either disable the
browser, or put filtering in place on the device, you may have a child or teen
using this unit in ways you wouldn't approve. As well, simply denying your
wireless password won't help in the least if there are other open connections in
your neighborhood. (Obviously, these pocket surfers also can easily be carried
to a location with an open connection.)
device that is catching parents by surprise is the Nintendo DSi. It's the new
replacement for the Nintendo DS and DS Lite, an extremely popular portable game
system that's been around since 2004. Due to its wide selection of games that
appeal to young children, the original "DS" has become extremely popular with
the preteen crowd. And while the DS included wireless networking capabilities,
its connectivity was limited to shared gameplay between other DS units in the
However the new DSi,
which looks very similar to the older DS and DS Lite, adds a very important
feature -- a new web browser that's available through a simple download. Once a
young user figures out how to install it (a very easy task) the DSi is a capable
Internet browsing device. It can't do all the tricks the aforementioned iTouch
can, but it most certainly can visit websites that virtually any parent of an
8-year-old would not want him or her seeing. Again, this function can be
disabled, but only if you know about this important capability of the DSi. And
even if your child doesn't know your home's wireless password, he or she can
still surf the net through any open Wi-Fi connection. (Note that Nintendo does
offer a free filtering service for the DSi browser.
Click this link and scroll down to the middle
of the page for the setup instructions.)
So how do you know
if there are open wireless opportunities in your home? The easiest way is to use
one of these portable units. On the iTouch, choose "Settings" then "Wi-Fi."
After a moment a list of wireless networks will appear. Yours should be on the
list, and if you have previously protected your Internet connection, a lock icon
should appear beside your network. However, if there are any other networks on
the list without a lock icon, those ones are wide open for anyone to use.
networks have limited range, try this test in a couple of places within your
home -- especially in your kids' bedrooms. You may be able to reach networks in
one part of your home that you can't in others. For instance, typically a top
storey of a home will receive better reception of more networks.
To do the same test
on a Nintendo DSi, click the wrench icon under system settings. On the next
screen scroll over to page 3 using the right arrow. Now choose "Connection
Settings" and on the next screen click the button beside Connection 1, 2 or 3.
Finally you will see a screen with a button that reads, "Search for an Access
Point." Now you should see a list of wireless connections available to you.
Again, yours should be on the list. If there is a closed lock beside your
connection's name, your Internet is secured. Now check to see if there are any
other connections that do not have this lock. If so, it may be possible for your
kids to make use of someone else's Internet connection.
So what do you do
if your neighbor's Internet is open to all? First, it's often difficult to
determine whose connection you are looking at. For privacy reasons, I highly
recommend you do NOT use your name to identify your own Internet connection,
however many people do. If you see a name of someone you recognize, then it's
easy to know to whom the connection belongs. Depending on your relationship with
them, you may want to simply ask them if they would like help securing their
Internet (assuming you know how to do that). At the very least, you may want to
let them know they are putting themselves at risk by keeping their connection
people won't be comfortable approaching the guy next door and suggesting he
change the settings on his wireless router. If that's your situation, you can
still help secure many of your kid's devices through the parental controls. For
example, on the Nintendo DSi, if you enable the parental controls and choose a
PIN that only you know, young users will not be able to access the Internet
settings. That means it should be impossible to connect to any other network
expect for yours. If you were visiting your high-tech Grandma, and they wanted
to connect to her wireless Internet, you would have to enter the PIN and select
the new network.
(The iTouch offers
similar parental controls that, when activated, should not allow the unit to
connect to other networks.)
In the end, I may
have left you convinced you don't want any of these "toys" in your home. Of
course, that is another option that your family may consider. However, depending
on your technical expertise, a little time spent putting the proper technical
restrictions in place can help alleviate many of the issues of concern.
Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews® - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.
and the Media by Rod Gustafson
Television Council -
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