Who’s On Your Network?

I want you to do something when you get back to your house or apartment.  Take out your phone or laptop, and look at the available Wi-Fi connections.  Most of you will probably see multiple connections, possibly even five or more.  Hopefully, all the connections are locked, i.e., a passcode is required to connect. 

More importantly, I hope that your Wi-Fi connection is locked with a complex passcode.  Why?  Your next-door neighbor can also see your network, and they are not nearly as security aware as you.  As a matter of fact, they are oblivious.  A hacker operating out of Uzbekistan has been using their computer to launch attacks for the past few weeks.

And next week, the target will be you.

Like it or not, this is the reality of our interconnected world.  The Internet provides great benefit in terms of bringing people together and making the world a smaller place.  However, the Internet also facilitates electronic attacks on an unprecedented scale.

Attackers flow like water, seeping into every unprotected nook and cranny they can find.  Once inside, the attackers lie low and watch for new, high-value targets.  For example, a corporate laptop or a mobile device connected to a business network.  Attackers search for any device that may be used as a stepping-stone to a larger prize.

Interestingly, I still see many people that choose to deny the risk.  They continue to surf the web in a state of mindless bliss.  I guess it’s the same attitude that encourages people to not wear a seat belt or to go boating without a life jacket.   Time and time again, this “it won’t happen to me” attitude comes to an end when, of course, it happens to them.

In the case of cyber security, this usually means the loss of all your kid’s pictures and your financial information.  In many cases, you might even lose your identity.

Security awareness is the first step folks need to take in order to use the Internet safely and with confidence.  Many folks have participated in security awareness programs at their business.  These programs are designed to train a workforce on how to protect the assets of the organization.  Successful programs change the culture of the organization so that good security practices become habit.

In our connected society, however, security awareness and good security practices needs to extend to everyone.  Everyone needs to understand that the potential exists for his or her information to be stolen, damaged or misused, whether deliberately or accidentally.

So, back to your home Wi-Fi…

In general, you can improve your security using a few simple configuration settings.

  • Use WPA2 encryption with a long, random, complex (non-human) password.
  • Never, ever use WEP encryption.
  • Turn off Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS).
  • Change the default password and SSID.
  • Turn on any built-in Intrusion Detection System.
  • If feasible, use MAC address filtering.

A quick search of the Internet will show that these changes will not completely secure your network.  However, most attackers look for targets of opportunity.  If the next guy is easier to hack, the attacker will likely hit them instead.

Cyber security awareness is an increasingly important component of our online lives.  Stay tuned for more…



The Best and the Brightest

Each year, the Georgia Tech Alumni Network of Augusta conducts a send-off event for the class of rising freshmen from the local area.  These individuals are among the best and brightest students in Augusta.  This year, I had the honor of hosting this event, and it was a pleasure to welcome these outstanding ladies and gentlemen into my home.

The statistics regarding the Georgia Tech Class of 2020 are staggering.  The average SAT score is 1445, and 97% of these students have already taken AP calculus or higher.  The competition to join this group was fierce.  Of the record high 30,500+ applications received, only 25% were offered admission.  These students span a diverse background, coming from 89 different Georgia counties, 43 different states and 63 different countries.

And for those who consider such things, 41% of the students in the incoming class are female.

You are correct to believe that this is not your father’s tech school.  We had the pleasure of speaking with musicians and athletes.  All the students were incredibly well-spoken, and they were very enthusiastic about facing the challenges of Georgia Tech.

Of course, they have no idea as to what they are actually getting themselves into, but that really doesn’t matter.  If the students at the Augusta send-off are typical, then this class is more than ready to handle anything that Tech will throw at them.

As a matter of fact, one of the other alumni in attendance mentioned that he was very happy that he wasn’t at Tech now.  First of all, he wasn’t sure he could get in.  Secondly, he was pretty certain that he would be perpetually stuck at the bottom end of the curve.

Now, this isn’t to say that these students won’t have challenges.  As new members of the Yellow Jacket community, they must learn to overcome certain stereotypes.

For example…

My 12-year-old daughters attended the event.  My wife and I gave them a choice, and they were excited to be part of a grown-up party.  (Although I think one of them just wanted the cake.)  After the event was over, I asked one of my daughters how she liked meeting the students.

“It was OK.  Actually, it was kind of boring.”

Of course, I’m confused.  “Boring?  What do you mean?  I thought it was a good party.”

“Yes, Dad, it was.  Everyone was nice.  But one time I walked up to a group, and, Dad, they were talking about math.  At a party!  They were talking about math at a party!  Who does that???”

Oh, my young padawan, you have so much to learn.  The people that talk about math at parties are the architects of tomorrow.  They turn the question “What If?” into the question “What now?”  These individuals will invent new medicines, harness new sources of energy and bring artificial intelligence into our lives.  They will transform our culture through technology.

And their journey begins at Georgia Tech in a few short days.  To all of you dreamers – Congratulations, and Good Luck!