Secure Wi-Fi router: 8 ways to keep your home network safe

Nowadays most of us use Wi-Fi at home to connect all our personal devices – computer, smartphone, smart TV, etc. – to  the internet. In addition to the convenience of checking social media from our comfy beds, however, we use our home networks for more sensitive purposes like online banking and remote work. So, it’s not just important to protect our accounts and devices from hackers, but the Wi-Fi router as well.

by Alyssa Schmitt

Father and child lying on bed looking at laptop
Don’t let a hacker spoil the fun of wireless surfing!

What are the risks of an unprotected Wi-Fi router?

Hackers like to target wireless routers, and it’s no wonder. Just think of the valuable data that flows through them from all the devices that connect to the internet via your home Wi-Fi network. For instance, they could tap into private information such as your passwords, emails, and banking data. Any data you send or receive through the router can be intercepted. A scammer could also hide their identity by channeling their illegal activities through your router. And a hacked Wi-Fi router can be used to install malware on any device connected to it.

Does your Wi-Fi meet security standards?

Now that you’ve read a few of the scary things a hacker can do with an insecure router, you are probably wondering if your home internet connection is secure enough to keep out cyber-intruders. Find out with our checklist!

Here are eight simple ways to secure your Wi-Fi router at home:
  1. Set up secure passwords
  2. Change default network name
  3. Don’t broadcast your network name
  4. Create guest access
  5. Enable encryption (WPA3)
  6. Update your Wi-Fi router regularly
  7. Make sure you have a good firewall
  8. Turn off your router when you leave home

Secure passwords for your router

You should protect your Wi-Fi router with a unique and secure password that you choose yourself. We emphasize the last point because your router will come with a default password for you to use in setting up the device. This password can often be found stuck on the back of the router when you purchase it. And for convenience's sake, the default password for many router models can be found online. See the problem here? If you don’t create your own router password, your home Wi-Fi network could be hacked by anyone with basic Googling skills.
 
Good to know: Your Wi-Fi router actually has two different passwords. One allows you to access the router settings (basically, an administrator password), while the other – the  “Wi-Fi password” – lets devices connect to the home network (this is the one your kids will always be asking for).

How to change your Wi-Fi router passwords

The procedure for changing your Wi-Fi router passwords will differ by provider and model. The router may have a mobile app that serves as a user interface, or you can enter the router's IP address (e.g. 63.264.156.23) into the address bar of your internet browser to go to your router’s configuration page.  When setting up a new router, log in with the pre-set Wi-Fi username and router password (check the bottom of your router) and follow the instructions to set a new username as well as administrator and Wi-Fi passwords.
 
Pro tip: Always use a strong, unique password

For optimal strength, make sure your new passwords are a minimum of 12 characters long and contain a mix of letters, numbers, and special characters. When setting up your Wi-Fi router, choose different administrator and Wi-Fi passwords.

The same principle applies for your email, online banking, etc. Each online service and device you use should have its own (strong!) password. That way if one of your passwords were to be compromised, the hacker would not be able to use it to access your other online accounts. For more information on creating strong, memorable passwords, see our explainer: How secure is my password?

Change your Wi-Fi network name

In addition to a default password, your Wi-Fi will also come with a preset SSID (service set identifier) – in other words, a network name. To be on the safe side, you should also rename your Wi-Fi. This is because most networks will publicly broadcast the SSID to any online device that comes within range. However, the SSID often contains specific information about the router like the manufacturer and model. And if a security vulnerability is known to exist in a particular router model, a hacker armed with the model's name can use this information gain access to your home network.

Your Wi-Fi network name can also be changed in the router settings. Simply log into the router configuration page to change the SSID. We also advise against choosing your name, the family name, etc. as your network name, so this information cannot be misused by potential cyber-attackers.

Switch off network name broadcasting

We’ve all seen our devices list nearby Wi-Fi networks that we can then choose to connect to. This is useful if you are a hotel, restaurant, etc. and you would like your customers to be able to find and join your network. However, a network that is only used by a few family members who all know the name does not necessarily need to pop up on any nearby device. Not broadcasting your router name makes it much harder for anyone to join your network to steal bandwidth or data. This option can also be adjusted in your router’s settings.

Create a guest login

Every person you give your Wi-Fi password to and connects to your router with their device is now a part of your network. From that moment on, you can't control what websites they access from your IP address or what files they download. And they will have access to any shared folders, printers, storage devices, etc. that are part of your home network. For this reason, most routers give you the option of creating a separate guest login and password. This is an easy way to keep your network and any sensitive data private from any visitors to your home. A guest login can be set up in your router settings and has the same functionality as your main network. You can select a different guest password and change it at any time.
 
Good to know: Removing guests from your Wi-Fi network
It is also possible to remove individual devices that are logged in to your network or have connected to it in the past and deny them further access. Go to your settings to view a list of all devices that have ever connected to your router and select those you’d like to remove individually from the list.

Activate WPA3 network encryption

Encryption protects you from unauthorized people trying to intercept data from your network. Nowadays most Wi-Fi routers have an encryption option, but it is usually not turned on by default. Be sure to slam the door on cyber-intruders by activating encryption when you set up your Wi-Fi. If you have an older router and have never activated encryption, there is no time like the present! You should also check what encryption standard your router uses. WPA3 (Wi-Fi Protected Access 3) is the latest and most secure method. The previous standard, WPA2, is still considered secure enough to offer an acceptable level of protection. If your router does not support WPA2 or 3, you may want to consider upgrading to a newer model.

Update your Wi-Fi router regularly

You are probably aware that regularly updating the software on your cell phone or computer is an important way of protecting your device from any security vulnerabilities. Your Wi-Fi router also requires a firmware update from time to time to fix bugs and receive security patches. You can check whether your router is up to date in its configuration menu. Most models have an automatic update option – make sure it is toggled on.
 
Bonus explainer: If you’d like more details about the importance of software updates and how best to manage them, see our deep dive here:  Software updates: Why they are important to your security

Make sure you have activated the firewall

Most Wi-Fi routers have a built-in firewall that monitors and filters incoming and outgoing internet traffic, blocking potential threats based on its security parameters. Depending on your model, you may need to actively switch on this firewall in the router settings. (If you don’t see this option, check under the advanced settings.) Make sure your home network is protected from malware and viruses by activating the firewall – and if your router does not have a preinstalled firewall, consider using a reputable third-party firewall solution for your home network.

Turn off your router when you leave home

If you are going to be away from home for a few days or weeks and your home network will not be in use, consider disabling it until you return. This will guarantee that your network stays safe from any unnoticed use or malicious activity while you are not there keeping an eye on things.

Now you know eight ways to boost your home network security – and your peace of mind. Let us know what you thought of this article below! And if you still don’t have a secure email account with mail.com, why not sign up for free here?

Images:1&1/Ketut Subiyanto via Pexels
 

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