The Hub of Your Home Security: Your Home Network and Router
Most of us assume the internet equipment from our internet service provider (ISP) is secured and safe to use. This is not always the case. Many ISP-provided routers come only with the most basic of protections installed. Security experts recommend buying your own router and setting up its security yourself. But whether you choose to use your ISP’s equipment or buy your own, there are some basic things you can do to ensure you’re safe while using it.
Remember: most household networks host an array of devices all linked to the internet through the home router. You should check the security of each device that connects to the web through your home network, and don’t forget the crucial step of protecting your home network itself.
The First Step
Before you begin, make sure you are working from a malware-free computer. Also, make sure all of your internet-enabled devices have the latest operating system, web browsers and security software. This includes mobile devices that access your wireless network. Every device is different, and some devices, like smartphones, are easy to update. Others, like a wireless-enabled appliance, might be a little harder to update. Do your homework, and if you can’t figure out how to update or secure a device, you might think twice about connecting it to your network.
Secure Your Wireless Router
The following are the most effective steps to secure your router. In some cases, depending on your equipment, completing a task may prove difficult. In the end, the time spent will be worth the hassle, though.
- Change the name of your router. The default ID—called a “service set identifier” (SSID) or “extended service set identifier” (ESSID)—is assigned by the manufacturer. Change your router to a name that is unique to you and won’t be easily guessed by others. Think of your router’s name as a password and make it complex and seemingly unrelated to you.
- Change the preset password on your router. Leaving a default password unchanged makes it much easier for hackers to access your network. You should change it as soon as possible. One example of a strong password is a sentence that is at least 12 characters long. Focus on positive sentences or phrases that you like to think about and are easy to remember (for example, “Ilovecountrymusic.”). Better still, use a complex, 12 to 16 character password consisting of letters (upper- and lowercase), symbols and numbers (“1L0veCountryMu51c”). Then, store that password in a password vault.
- Review your security options. When choosing your router’s level of security, opt for WPA2, if available, or WPA. These levels are more secure than the WEP option.
- Create a guest password. Some routers allow for guests to use networks via separate guest passwords. If you have many visitors to your home, it’s a good idea to set up a guest network.
- Use a firewall. Firewalls help keep hackers from using your device to send out your personal information without your permission. While antivirus software scans incoming email and files, a firewall is like a guard, watching for attempts to access your system and blocking communications with sources you don’t permit. Your operating system and/or security software likely comes with a pre-installed firewall, but make sure you turn on these features.
How Do I Access My Router’s Settings?
You log in to your wireless router just like a web page, and you do so through a web browser. Complete the following steps:
- In the address field, type your router’s IP address. This can be found on the router itself. Most routers’ address is 192.168.1.1, but that's not always the case, and you should confirm the address first.
- To confirm your router’s address in Windows, type CMD in the search function to the right of the windows icon in the application tray at the bottom of the screen. This will open a command prompt window. At that window, type ipconfig and press Enter. Scroll up until you see a setting for Default Gateway under Wi-Fi. That's your router, and the number next to it is your router's IP address.
- Type your router’s address into a web browser’s address field, and you should be asked for your router’s username and password. You should have set these up when you first activated your equipment, or these credentials may be listed on the equipment itself.
- Can’t remember your password? Hopefully your router offers a password recovery feature. If it doesn’t, try Googling for your router’s name along with “default username and password.” Still can’t get in? That means the credentials were indeed reset from factory settings. Once you have the factory credentials for your make and model, you’ll need to do a hardware reset. Most routers will have a small button on the bottom which can be pushed with a pin or other long, small item. Push in that button, hold it for 10 seconds, release and try to log in again.
Once you access your router’s settings, refer back to the suggestions in “Secure Your Wireless Router,” above, to ensure your router is properly secured.