Many individuals and businesses use wireless networks (Wi-Fi) to enable laptops and other wireless devices to access the Internet. Wi-Fi generally includes a wireless "router" that connects to a broadband Internet service via a modem attached to the cable or telephone network.
While Wi-Fi offers a great deal of convenience, an unsecured network can lead to data theft or other cybercrimes. For example, unauthorized users may be able to:
- Access your private information
- View the content of transmissions
- Download unlawful content using your network
- Infect computers with viruses or spyware
- Send spam, spyware or viruses to others (this activity can be traced back to your network)
Two things are vital to keeping your network safe: proper settings and prudence. The first step is to adjust the settings on your router; the second is to be cautious whenever you're online. Read on for some router and network settings tips that will help keep your home network safe.
Turn encryption on.
Network encryption will "scramble" anything sent through the Internet so that if anyone steals it after it's sent, they can't read it. The file's recipient must use your encryption code in order to read the file you sent.
- Most new routers have encryption disabled;shortly after installation of the router, check that encryption is turned on
- To turn on encryption, you will need to log in to your router company's website (usually found on the bottom of the router box) and choose a wireless network password
- Longer passwords that utilize a combination of letters, numbers and symbols are more secure
- Note that there are different types of encryption; "WPA2" currently is the most effective standard
Turn on your firewall.
A firewall is a program that blocks anyone from using the Internet to gain access to your computer without permission.
- There are two types of firewalls: hardware and software
- A hardware firewall is a metal box that plugs into a modem; because these can protect multiple computers at once, they are often used by businesses
- Software firewalls are programs that are pre-installed onto your computer
- Wireless routers usually come with a pre-installed firewall, but these are often disabled by default; make sure yours is enabled
Change your router's default password.
Most wireless routers come with preset passwords for administering the device settings.
- Cyberthieves may be familiar with the default passwords for various routers, so it's important to change these to strong passwords of your own
- To change the default passwords, find the router privacy settings on your router's website (look on the bottom of the router itself), then log in to change your password
Change your SSID.
Your SSID, or service set identifier, is the name of your router's network.
- When people search for Wi-Fi networks to connect to, they will see all local SSIDs that are publicly broadcast
- Cyberthieves search for the most common network names (usually the default SSID, often the name of the router company) to find unsecured networks
- Choose a new name for your SSID by logging in to your router company's website network
Disable remote administration.
Many routers allow you to administer them from anywhere on the Internet. However, most consumers don't need this feature, and it leaves your network vulnerable. It's best to disable this feature when you install your router.
Set up your router's MAC address filter.
Every Wi-Fi-compatible device has a unique address assigned by the manufacturer called a MAC (Media Access Control).
- You can set your wireless network to only accept connections from your own devices; this provides another layer of protection from unauthorized access
- Login to your router company's website to enable MAC address filtering
- Be aware that MAC addresses can easily be faked (also called "spoofed") by a hacker; for this reason, it's just one of many tools in your security arsenal
Stay up to date with patches and updates.
Like all computers, routers have operating software called firmware. Occasionally, router companies will release firmware updates or patches designed to fix specific security vulnerabilities.
- Check for patches and updates in the router administration area
- Make sure all updates and patches are also applied to any devices connected to the network
- Turn off your Wi-Fi network when it will not be in use for extended periods of time
- Use antivirus and antispyware software on the computers that access your wireless network