The Ultimate Guide On Securing Your Wi-Fi Router And Protecting Your Home
Many people may be unaware of this fact, but your router is one of the essential devices in your home. Routers link most of the other devices in your home together and the outside world, making them a target for hackers. If an intruder compromises your router and gains access to your network, it can be quick work to turn those devices into a botnet.
Wi-Fi hackers are typically opportunistic and tend to take advantage of small mistakes users make when connecting devices to a network or setting up a router. If you’re looking to avoid these pitfalls and secure your Wi-Fi router, here are several steps you can take.
1. Change default router SSID name
Virtually all routers today come with a generic name assigned by the manufacturer, and one of the first things you want to do when you buy a new router is to change its name. When a computer with a wireless connection searches and displays the wireless networks nearby, it lists each network that broadcasts its Service Set Identifier (SSID), which increases the risks of a hacker breaking into your network. Changing your router name makes it hard for hackers to know the brand of router you are using, figure out the default SSID and crack its encryption.
Also, it’s a good idea to give your Wi-Fi a name that gives no clue of the type of router you’re using, as this will likely throw hackers off their mission. Experts strongly advise that a Wi-fi’s name shouldn’t be provocative like “You can’t hack this” as it may backfire. You also don’t want to give it a name that includes any information about you or your address, e.g., Harry’s Wi-Fi.
2. Create a lengthy and complex password
Each router comes with a preset password that allows you to log into it. Although default passwords are usually strong, you can make yours stronger by changing it to something long and random, so it can’t be cracked by a determined hacker.
One of the most common mistakes many people make when protecting their Wi-Fi is to use a memorable name. It’s tempting but don’t! Hackers can crack simple passwords easily, especially passwords that are based on names and dates of birth. Opt for a strong password instead. A lengthy and complex password should be at least 12 characters (or at least 16 characters) and a mix of symbols and numbers as well as uppercase and lowercase letters.
It’s also a good practice to change your passwords every 6-12 months, but if you have a large gathering in your home, be sure to change the password after the event.
3. Use modern encryption standards
Network encryption serves the same purpose as sending messages in a secret code, meaning the data is unreadable while it’s in transit. Without encryption, your network is left unprotected and completely open for hackers to access.
Some older routers use Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), which is now outdated and vulnerable to attacks, so choose the strongest type of encryption your router supports. The WPA2 is a safe bet, while the WPA3 is currently the highest level of encryption, but it is not yet available on most routers.
Don’t forget to change your encryption key (the password used to connect to your wireless network) to something that can’t be easily guessed. Also, be sure to change the key a few times a year.
4. Use a virtual private network (VPN)
For utmost privacy, install a VPN on your router. A VPN gives you an encrypted channel that allows you to communicate over an unsecured network privately. It hides your online activity from third parties and masks your location, providing you with an extra level of protection on top of built-in router encryption.
In theory, a hacker may be able to penetrate your network but will still be unable to hurt your system because the VPN keeps your stuff private. It’s a good idea to ensure that all the devices connected to your Wi-Fi have a VPN running on them.
5. Create a guest network
It’s not unusual for friends, family, and guests that visit to ask if they can use your Wi-Fi. This could pose a security risk to your network, but you can solve this problem by simply creating a guest network. This means they can connect to the internet without getting access to your family’s internet network.
Thankfully, most routers can create and maintain guest Wi-Fi networks, thus enabling the simple segmentation of your network into two isolated domains: your main network and another for guests. When you create a separate network for guests, be sure to turn on WPA encryption rather than leave it open, as it will help provide some control and protect your guests so hackers won’t be able to snoop on their traffic.
6. Disable remote access and other features
Many routers come with features that allow you to access your Wi-Fi remotely, but this is a no-no if home network security is a priority for you. Although the feature is nice in that it offers a lot of conveniences when you need admin-level access to your router, leaving it on allows anyone close enough to your home to view or change your Wi-Fi settings.
It’s strongly advised to disable remote access and other features that could compromise your home network’s security, such as Telnet, UPnP (Universal Plug and Play), and SSH (Secure Shell). These should be turned off on the local network if they’re not needed.
7. Turn off your network when not at home
Leaving your home Wi-Fi network on when you’re not using it is equivalent to leaving all your windows open. Any hacker can notice that your network is always on and keep trying till they successfully penetrate it.
A router cannot be compromised if it is disconnected, so make sure you unplug it if you’re leaving for a vacation or if you’re done using it for the day. This will help prevent malicious activity, save you money on the electric bill and decrease the risks of a power surge.
8. Ensure your router’s firmware is up-to-date
Like any other software, your router’s firmware can contain vulnerabilities that hackers are keen to exploit and will receive updates to fix those issues, provide extra features and improve security. Manufacturers offer solutions to address security breaches they discover in your router’s software.
Unfortunately, many routers don’t come with the option to auto-update their software, which means you have to routinely check that your router is fully up to date and see if there’s any update available. If you do, run the update to keep your router secure with the newest update.
9. Activate your router firewall
Most routers have a built-in firewall that can help keep hackers out of your network. A firewall is essentially a filter that’s designed to block unauthorized access while still permitting a safe network through. It adds another layer of protection to your home network security by blocking malicious attacks and preventing an infected device on your network.
Although most routers come equipped with a firewall, many are turned off in the default settings and often go unnoticed and unused. Enabling a firewall will help keep intruders at bay and secure your router and home network.
10. Place the router at the center of your home
You probably haven’t thought about this, but where the router is located in your home can also determine to a good degree how secure your home network will be. It is strongly advised to place your router in the middle of your home for two key reasons.
First, placing the router at the center of your home means you will be able to access the internet from any part of your home without hassles. Second, placing it in the middle of your house will help reduce the chances of your Wi-Fi signal reaching outside your home, where someone with malicious intent can intercept it. Experiment with your router placement and signal strength levels to decrease the transmission coverage of your Wi-Fi network, reducing the risk of compromise.
11. Enable MAC access filtering
Every device had a unique MAC address (Media Access Control), a unique ID assigned to that device. Everything you can hook up to your home network has a MAC address.
Your router’s settings come with the option only to allow access to devices that use an approved MAC address. You can type in the MAC addresses of all the devices in your home into your router’s settings which automatically restricts network access to devices that have not been approved.
12. Hide your network
Wi-Fi access points are usually configured by default to broadcast the name of your wireless network. However, you can hide the name of your network, thanks to a feature known as SSID hiding. When you turn on this feature, your browser will stop publicizing your SSID, and your network name will be instantly hidden from the list of people in the area.
13. Disable UPnP
UPnP is a great feature for allowing networked devices to discover and establish communication with each other on the network. This feature unfortunately is also a security risk. Recent attacks have shown malware within your network can use UPnP to bypass your router’s firewall, allow hackers to take control of your devices remotely, and spread malware to other devices connected. So, unless you have a specific need for UPnP, you should disable it.
Our increasing reliance on electronic devices has opened the door to many risks, making us prone to targeted attacks. However, you can keep out attackers by securing your Wi-Fi router and home network following the steps above. Be sure to properly set up, configure and maintain your network using these tips above, and you will be able to bolster your home network security. For more ways to protect your data, see our article on 7 Ways To Protect Your Data Privacy Online In 2021.