Your home network might be vulnerable — Here’s how to secure it

These days, you hear all kinds of horror stories about black hat hackers breaking into home networks. There was the guy that hacked a Ring camera in a little girl’s bedroom and harassed her through the speaker.
Internet user on laptop
Since COVID started, there have been countless reports of hackers breaking into Zoom meetings. And there’s always the threat that hackers will target your sensitive data, hold your machines for ransom, or enlist your smart devices to fight in a bot war, which isn’t as cool as it sounds.

If you just brought home a gateway or router from your internet service provider (ISP), plugged it in, and proceeded to binge Netflix, you’re doing it wrong. Your home network may be in desperate need of a security makeover. Here’s what to do.

Change Your Router’s Default Login Credentials

Every router and wireless gateway made comes with a set of default login credentials — a generic username and a password that’s the same for every identical device. Generic default login credentials make it easy for users to access their device for the first time, but you should change these credentials immediately, because they make it easy for hackers to get into your router, too. It’s pretty easy to find your router’s default login credentials online, and hackers will sometimes just drive slowly down a residential street, looking for home networks they can hack.

Changing those credentials is the most basic step you can take to secure your network. Figure out how to login to your router’s admin dashboard using those default login credentials which will be different from the credentials you use to connect your devices to the wireless network. You’ll need to be able to go to the router’s IP address to get in.

Install Those Updates

While you’re in your router’s admin dashboard, adjust the settings so that firmware updates are installed automatically. Manufacturers push out these kinds of updates when they discover a security flaw in the original software, or a way to improve performance. Installing those updates promptly will improve your router’s performance and protect your network.

Disable Remote Access Options

Hackers aren’t going to walk into your living room and pop a squat next to your wireless router. No, they’re going to need to access it remotely. That’s why you should disable Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) and remote access. You’ll want to re-enable UPnP if you want to connect a new device to the network, and, depending on what apps you’re using, you might not be able to disable it at all. You should also turn off Wifi Protected Setup (WPS), which can make it too easy for unauthorized devices to connect to your network.

Turn Up Your Wifi Protected Access (WPA) Settings

Make sure you’re using the highest level of WPA protection your router allows. It should give you the option for at least WPA2, but we’re up to WPA3 these days, so if your router doesn’t offer that level of protection, you should absolutely consider replacing your router.

Install a Security Station

If you really want a secure network, you need a network security station. More than a two-way firewall, this is a physical device that connects to your network and protects it from hackers and malware. You’ll get file scanning for downloads, intrusion protection, remote access blocking, vulnerability scans, and more. You’ll also get robust parental controls and device management tools.

Get Your Own Router or Gateway

If you’re relying on a rented gateway or router from your ISP, that’s a problem in itself. For one thing, malware and hacking aside, you’ll pay a lot more over the years to rent a gateway from your ISP than you would if you just bought a new one every three or four years. For another, ISPs may not be as diligent about pushing out firmware updates and fixing flaws and performance issues as other gateway manufacturers. And, of course, it’s easy to find yourself limping along with a legacy gateway for several years longer than is strictly recommended, just because many ISPs won’t replace your equipment unless you ask them to.

Is your home network safe from hackers? Probably not. Take some simple steps to shore up your digital defenses, or you could face devastating losses due to cyber crime.

Baburajan Kizhakedath