Computer security professionals refer to these steps as ‘hardening’ measures and they do just that—they make your software, your devices, your network and the connections between them harder to access and more resilient to attack.
Routers and modems
A router is a small electronic box that creates a network for the devices in your home. A modem connects that network to the internet. Many internet providers offer a combined router/modem unit that performs both these functions in one device, and here we refer to the device simply as a router.
Setting up your router
Ensure the network password provided by the ISP or router manufacturer is hard to guess, and if not change it to something more secure. Find out how to set and use strong passwords.
Some manufacturers’ administrator passwords to access the settings for routers are publicly available online, so in this case it’s imperative you change the password on your device. Where possible, also change the default administrator username (typically ‘admin’ or ‘administrator’) to something hard to guess.
Ensure remote management is disabled. Remote management on your modem or router can allow you to make changes to your internet connection, including passwords by logging into your device via the internet. By disabling this function, you are protected from unauthorised people remotely accessing your router and tampering with it.
Consider enabling the ‘guest’ Wi-Fi feature on your network for visitors that may need access. This way you don’t need to share your actual Wi-Fi password with them and you can cycle the guest Wi-Fi password as needed without having to reset all your wireless devices in your house.
In many cases it is straightforward for a cybercriminal to determine the make and model of the device you are using, and then access your router.
Use the strongest encryption protocol
Because wireless networks don’t need a wire between a computer and the internet connection, it is possible for anyone within range to intercept the signal if it is unprotected.
This means you need to use the strongest encryption protocol provided by your router, which is currently WPA2. You should be able to check this by looking at the device settings. The WPA2 protocol was introduced in 2006, so routers purchased on or before this date will not give you the option of selecting it.
Manufacturers often classify old devices as ‘legacy’ models and no longer develop firmware upgrades for them, and this can leave you exposed to known security flaws.
If that’s the case, you should consider replacing your router.
Not using the strongest encryption protocol increases the chances of your internet communications being intercepted by cybercriminals.
Make sure your router uses the latest ‘firmware’ available
Firmware is the software embedded into your router that determines the functions it can perform. Just like new software updates for your computer, new firmware for your router will provide improved features and address any security vulnerabilities.
To find out which version of firmware is installed on your router, some have a button you can click to automatically check if a more recent version is available. If not, you can log in to the device and check its settings. Then if you go to the manufacturer’s website, it will tell you if there’s a more recent version of firmware for your device and allow you to download it.
Be careful when you do this. Make sure you follow the instructions in your device’s manual and select the correct firmware upgrade version for your model of router, because a failed update can render your device unusable and disconnect all your computing devices from the internet.
If you don’t feel confident to update your firmware, you could get in touch with a reputable computer technician. You could also think about replacing your router.
Upgrading to a current router model will offer you significant benefits such as additional features and configuration options, and most importantly, faster data transfer speeds.