These days, you can’t be too finicky about your home network security. You hear all kinds of creepy stories about hackers accessing home networks to spy on families, but that’s not the only threat you face. Scammers can access your network more easily than you think, and could use that access to steal your personal information or hijack your Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
What is a homeowner to do? Follow these five steps to secure your home network and keep it safe from hackers, scammers, and other cyber criminals.
1) Buy Your Own Gateway or Router
If you care about your home network security, not to mention your wallet, you should buy your own gateway or router instead of using the one your internet service provider will want to rent for you. You’ll save money in the long run — rental fees for those ISP-owned devices can be $10 to $15 a month, while the cost of purchasing your own gateway may be only about $100 to $125. And you need to replace your gateway or router every three or four years, so you’ll save a couple hundred bucks in rental fees over that time if you buy your own router.
Furthermore, your ISP-provided router might not be as secure as it could be. ISPs don’t tend to be as concerned about pushing out firmware updates for their customers’ gateway devices. Sometimes, they don’t even let you know when it’s time to trade in your rented gateway for a newer model. You could easily end up depending on legacy equipment that doesn’t have the chops to protect your network from malware and hackers.
2) Change the Default Admin Credentials
When you unbox a brand new router or gateway, you’ll be able to login to its admin dashboard using the default username and password. You’ll need to login to your router’s admin dashboard in order to adjust the device’s security settings, and we’ll discuss further in subsequent steps. But first, make sure you change the default username and password. Create a unique, strong password and don’t just reuse the same password you use for everything else.
It’s important to do this right away, because hackers can easily find your device’s default login credentials online. Manufacturers give the same default credentials to large batches of their devices, under the assumption that you’ll obviously change it first thing. If you don’t change it first thing — or if, like a lot of people, you didn’t even realize that you could login to your router’s dashboard — you’re leaving your network wide open. Secure your home network with a strong new password.
3) Disable Remote Access
Most routers and wireless gateways have remote access features that make it easy for users to connect new devices to their network, or to access the router’s admin dashboard. However, they also make it easy for hackers to get into your router without being connected to your home network. That’s because remote access features allow you to access your router’s admin settings from the internet, rather than through a direct connection to the device.
While you’re fiddling with your router’s admin settings, go ahead and disable remote dashboard access, Wifi Protected Setup (WPS) and Universal Plug and Play (UPnP). This will keep hackers from accessing your router from a different network, or from connecting devices to your network without your knowledge. However, keep in mind that if you buy a new device you want to connect to the network, it’ll be easier if you go back into your router’s admin dashboard and turn UPnP back on until you’re done connecting your new device.
4) Enable the Latest Security Protocols
Your router should offer Wifi Protected Access II (WPA2) or the newest security protocol, WPA3. Set your security protocols to the highest level of WPA protection your router or gateway offers. If it doesn’t offer at least WPA2, it’s time to replace the device.
5) Keep Your Device Up-to-Date
Keeping your device updated is crucial to protecting it from malware and hacking attempts. Manufacturers use firmware updates as an opportunity to patch software vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit with malware, and to address other emerging security issues, as well as improve device performance.
When it comes to protecting your home network, you can’t be too careful. Protect your home network from hackers, and let them look elsewhere for a quick buck.