For the average person, securing your home network means installing antivirus protection, and perhaps changing passwords every once in a while. Most of us figure that if the antivirus does its job, we shouldn’t have any trouble at all.
The problem is, though, that viruses and malware aren’t the only dangers to a home network. Hackers are constantly looking for new and clever ways to gain access to places where they don’t belong to spy on you and steal your information, and some of those tricks require circumventing traditional security measures. In fact, there is one key part of your home network that’s likely to be exceptionally vulnerable to hackers and other attacks: your router.
But I Changed the Password!
Over the last few years, many consumers have become aware of the need to step up their home network security game and secure their routers. After all, no one wants their neighbors stealing their Wi-Fi signal. However, while the number of routers that aren’t password protected has gone down, surveys indicate that as many as 80 percent of home routers are still left unsecured.
And this could mean trouble. With the right router credentials, a hacker could launch a “man in the middle” attack, which essentially allows the hacker to not only spy on your internet activity, but reroute your traffic to harmful sites. In other words, you might think you are visiting your bank’s website, but it’s just a spoof site — and the hacker now has all your login credentials and bank account information. Access to your router also allows hackers to alter unencrypted data being sent from your home computers, or take over your machines remotely to be used as bots in attacks on other targets.
By now you’re probably thinking, “But I changed the password. I’m good.” Not so fast. Changing the default password on your router is only the beginning.
Updates, Name Changes, Disabled Features, and More
It’s important to note that most consumer routers have inherent security issues that the typical user isn’t going to be aware of. For example, most users aren’t aware of the need to install firmware updates on their routers, and router manufacturers aren’t always upfront about necessary updates either. That being said, you should check for updates for your equipment on a regular basis to ensure that security vulnerabilities are patched.
The router you’re using can also make a difference as to how secure it is. While security experts recommend purchasing a router intended for small-business use, that isn’t always practical. At the very minimum, though, you should use a separate modem and router, and avoid using a router provided by your ISP. While that is a cost-effective option, you don’t have as much control over the security of leased equipment as you do over your own.
Once you have your router installed, take a few moments to adjust a few key security settings to ensure that criminals can’t access your network.
- Change the router name. Don’t leave your router named “Netgear5” or whatever name it comes with. Give it a unique name that doesn’t tell hackers exactly where you’re located (i.e., don’t use your address.)
- Disable Wi-Fi Protected Setup. This allows devices to access your Wi-Fi network via an eight-digit code, not a password. A flaw in the code design means that there are only 11,000 possible combinations, and the code is easily found on the bottom of the router. Disable this feature to prevent hackers from using brute force to crack the code — or a visitor to your home from stealing the code.
- Enable WPA2 wireless encryption to keep unauthorized users off your network.
- Set up a guest network. This will automatically disconnect devices that aren’t being used after a set period, and keep visitors from accessing your network without permission.
Incorporating these security measures into your router setup can help keep your home network safe from prying eyes and decrease the likelihood that you’ll be a victim of a cybercrime. It doesn’t take long to make these changes, and it is time well spent when you consider how long it will take to recover from a serious breach.