$1,800 Bill a cautionary tale for locking down your wireless network!

A story this week in the Montreal Gazette told of a Videotron customer, Amber Hunter, who racked up huge Internet Bill because her wireless network was hacked.

The newspaper reported that since August of last year, Hunter was billed more than $1,800 by Videotron because her internet usage greatly exceeded her limit of 30 Gigabytes per month.

The source of the problem was a free loading hacker who was using Ms. Hunter’s wireless Internet Connection to download upwards of 350GB of data a month. Once Ms. Hunter turned off the wireless connection the massive overages ended.

The Gazette Story, l which attempts to smear the Quebec based cable giant by suggesting that Ms. Hunter was innocent victim, is a useful warning to digital home owners about the importance of properly securing your wireless network and actually re-assuring that some big company do understand and are willing to help customers having problems.

Readers, who take the time to read the Gazette story, will learn that prior to the four month of massive bills, Ms. Hunter and her roomate had exceeded their monthly limit of 30GB per month every month for over a year. After reading the article, their is no doubt that Ms. Hunter had ample opportunity to deal with the problem.

Videotron, to its credit, did reverse some of the charges but noted that after a prolonged period of exceeding their download limits, the customer has to take some responsibility.

“We credited her account for $313, but at a certain point, we need to share the responsibility. We don’t like these kind of situations.” said Isabelle Dessureault of Videotron.

The moral of the story is that Digital Home owners wanting to set up wireless networks in their home are ultimately responsible for their security and the bandwidth consumption used on their account. It’s not your cable or telco’s responsibility if your car, house, or wireless internet network is broken into.

The very best way to lock down you wireless internet connection is to not have a wireless internet connection at all. Of course this is not practical if you have portable devices such as an iPad or iPod Touch which relies on WiFi so for those that must have a wireless network, here are few recommendations when setting up a wireless network in your home.

First, follow every step in the setup instructions in the manual of your wireless router. Companies such as D-Link, Linksys, and NetGear typically come with quick setup instructions which will guide you through every step of your routers setup. Some even provide software wizards which make the process relatively painless.

Second, be sure to enable encryption. Since no wireless network should ever be left open, use WPA Encryption to make your wireless network more secure. Be sure to set up your wireless router using WPA2 encryption. Use WPA if you have older wireless devices that can’t take advantage of WPA2. Dont’ use the older and less secure Wireless Encryption Protocol (WEP). If you router is old and doesn’t support WPA then upgrade to a newer faster router that does.

Third, use a strong password and key. If a hacker gains access to your routers configuration settings, they can disable the security you have set up therefore create a strong password which includes plenty of characters including numbers and even special characters such as [email protected]# where possible. To gain access to your wireless network, all devices must input the special key you set up in your routers configuration. This key needs to be long and secure to deter hackers. Make your key at least 20 characters long and make sure its includes random upper and lowercase characters and numbers.

Other ways to make your wireless network less vulnerabel include: MAC address filtering; changing the Service Set Identifier (the network name or “SSID”) from the default to something unique; disabling remote logins and disabling wireless administering.

The first two recommendations are critical to secure any wireless network while the additional steps are optional steps which can increase security but can also limit flexibility so each digital homeowner will have to make the decision for themselves.

Regardless of what lengths you goto, there is always a potential for your network to be compromised so I recommend that all readers be sure to check their internet bill closely and look for any spikes in Internet activity that may suspicious.

If your Internet Service provider offers an online bandwidth meter where you can check yoru monthly usage then be sure to check it once a month to ensure that your current usage is consistent with the previous month. Internet Service providers will often forgive overage charges if you are pro-active and notify them immediately.

Discuss Wireless Internet Security in Digital Home’s Computing forum.


6 Responses to “$1,800 Bill a cautionary tale for locking down your wireless network!”
  1. mt says:

    Changing your SSID from the default doesn’t do anything to add to your security situation – it’s just a label to help you distinguish your network from everyone else’s. In most cases, changing it makes you less secure because most people pick a word that is identifiable with them. If you leave your SSID as “d-Link”, nobody in you neighbourhood will know for sure that it is your network. Certainly, this makes it harder for you to find your network as well… but you’ll know if you accidentally connect to someone else’s because you won’t have the right passkey.

    • Gobisbay says:

      True, but if you leave your SSID as d-link or linksys, a hacker will know exactly what kind of router you use and different routers use different IPs for administration purposes. Don’t make it quite so easy on them. You can also hide the SSID so users attempting to access your network must also know the network exists and the name of the SSID. Some devices can only search by network though so this may not be practical for many.

  2. A says:

    Actually turning off the broadcast of the SSID is a better solution and also renaming it, that way only people with sniffers will see it and it won’t appear in anyone’s list to connect to. I really hate the term hacker, if her WiFi was open, then anyone could use it, including neighbours, kids with iPods etc. More like a squatter than a hacker which implies that the person hacked into her network.

    Just my 2 cents.

  3. Reed Solomon says:

    Shouldn’t be limits in the first place.

  4. Orbit says:

    The real theft here is Videotron charging thousands of dollars for tens of dollars of bandwidth. These overage fees are out of control the CRTC needs to step in and regulate them. The cost of bandwidth has been getting cheaper every year but the telcos and cablecos continue to raise prices. It’s a shame we will not get any help from the corporate controlled CRTC and government.

  5. Eric Geier says:

    Hiding the SSID doesn’t do anything for security and can cause a headache for the owner. A hacker can easily get the SSID. So why would you hide it from casual neighbors?