Hacking into your neighbor’s wifi network may be easier than you think—and, conversely, your neighbor may think it’s easy to hack into your network. Considering that the police are going to blame you for any activity which happens on your Internet connection, keeping wifi trespassers off your network is very important, so here are five ways to hack into a neighbor’s network that might be used against you.
Wifi Network Hack #1—The Open Network
In the early days of wifi, almost all networks were open networks—which meant any wireless device could connect to them. This was quite convenient, as no set up is required to connect to an open network so you could share your internet connection if required. Many routers even today come setup by default as open networks, so unless your neighbor has changed his settings, you may be able to immediately connect to his network. We might not want to hack into the neighbors internet, but sometimes it is there for the taking.
The only thing preventing someone from connecting to an open network is range—wifi routers typically have a range of only a few hundred feet (or less if too many walls are involved), so connecting to your neighbor’s network may be difficult in rural areas or some suburban areas when homes are far apart.
However, wifi hackers (sometimes called wardrivers) have long used directional antennas and signal amplifiers to overcome typical range limitations. Although a consumer laptop and a consumer wifi router have a maximum expected range of about 1,500 feet (500 meters), hackers can use special (but inexpensive) equipment to connect to networks up to 20 miles (30 kilometers) away. So even if you live in the wilds of Alaska, your neighbor might be able to hack your open wifi network.
Wifi Network Hack #2—Wireless Encryption Protocol (WEP)
When wifi routers first came out, manufacturers knew that some people would want security, so they added the Wireless Encryption Protocol (WEP) which was supposed to keep neighbors and other attackers out of your network. However, WEP was poorly designed and it turned out that anyone who could monitor your wireless communication for a few hours could break WEP.
Later, hackers discovered a way to send bad packets to your network that would make hacking WEP even faster—today, a hacker using a freeware program and a standard laptop can hack a WEP connection in two to five minutes.
WEP is still installed on the majority of routers, although it’s rarely enabled by default. On older routers, it may be the only security option. It’s better than an open connection, but it should not be considered actual security. (Use WPA2 instead if it’s available on your router.)
Wifi Network Hack #3—Wifi Protected Access (WPA) PINs
The replacement for WEP was WPA, which included several different protocols for extra flexibility. The two most commonly used protocols are WPA Pre-Shared Keys (PSK) and WPA push-button authentication. Both of these remain secure. However, a third protocol was the PIN method, where you would choose (or have chosen for you) a short number-only pin that you could enter into devices you wanted to connect to the network.
Hackers discovered they could brute-force the PIN—that is, they could simply try each combination one after another until they found the correct PIN for your network. The process might take from one minute to nearly an entire day, but eventually they’d get the right combination.
This is a perfect attack for a neighbor since he can run it for as long as it takes—he’s not going anywhere.
There’s no defense against the PIN attack except to make sure you disable PIN authentication on your wireless router. You can use the other WPA methods securely—but read the following section.
Wifi Network Hack #4—Weak WPA Pre-Shared Keys (PSKs)
Probably the most commonly-used wifi security method today, WPA-PSK (or WPA2-PSK) lets you enter a password on the Settings screen of your router and then enter that same password on your devices to allow them to securely connect to your wifi connection. This is easy and very secure—if you use a strong password.
Of course, if you’ve read the news lately, many people don’t use secure passwords. For example, one study found that nearly 50% of people used one of the top 100 passwords on a particular website—passwords like “password”, “password1”, “1234”, and so on. See these different ways obtain a WiFi password.
Known passwords and short passwords are called “weak passwords” in security research because they’re easy to break using the same brute-force method used against WPA PINS—basically an attacker keeps trying weak password after weak password until he finds your password.
Again, this is a perfect attack for a neighbor because he can use freeware software to run his computer 24/7 trying to break into your router. If you use a weak password, he will almost certainly succeed eventually.
The solution for this is simple: use a strong password—a password that’s is at least 8 characters, isn’t a word or name, and which includes some numbers or special characters. To allow me to use a strong password and not inconvenience guests, I have a sticky note on top of my router with my network password on it. This allows guests inside my home to simply walk up to the router and enter the password—but it prevents neighbors or anyone else from getting my password.
Wifi Network Hack #5—The Last Resort: Jamming
If you do everything right to secure your network, there’s nothing your neighbor can do to break your security—except convince you not to use it. Using a standard laptop or reprogrammable router, your neighbor can use a program that will jam your router any time you attempt to use a secure protocol. You won’t be able to tell that you’re being jammed, but you will notice that you either can’t connect to to your network any more or that it runs very slow.
If you stop using security and re-enable open networking, the jamming will stop, possibly leading you to believe that it’s your security that’s broken. In the mean time, your neighbor will be using your open wifi network.
The only defense against this is to have a radio communications expert diagnose your connection problem as jamming. Jamming—like all the hacks described here—is illegal, and if you demonstrate that you’re being jammed while a police officer watches, your neighbor will probably be fined. (Jail time for jamming is rare, but fines for jamming in the U.S. can be several hundred thousand dollars, making it one of the most expensive “minor” offenses.)
To improve your wireless network security, use WPA security with PSK and a strong password, or use WPA with push-button security. Remember to disable WEP and WPA-PIN, and if you have connection problems related to security, don’t take them at face value. Anything else may allow your neighbor to hack your wifi connection.