Are you worried about the security of your home wireless network? You should be. Your home wireless network is more than just a way to get online at home – it’s also a conduit for much of your personal information. If you’re like most people who use the internet at home, you use it to send and receive emails, shop, bank, and enjoy social media. If you don’t lock down your network, neighbors or even random passersby on the street could piggyback off your signal, and hackers could even use it to steal your personal information, perpetrate a ransomware attack, or worse.
Fortunately, securing your home wireless network is simpler than you might think. Even today, when cyberthreats and data breaches are increasingly common, there are several basic but effective steps you can take to safeguard your network, and the devices connected to it.
Change Your Default Credentials
The first step toward securing your home wireless network should be to change your network’s name and password. When you first set up your wireless network, you’ll use the generic username and password that came with your router. The trouble is, that username is a matter of public record, and in most cases, the default password is written somewhere on your router. That means that anyone who has physical access to your router can access your network – and it also means that a hacker with decent password cracking software can decipher your credentials, as well, since they’ll already have your network’s username.
You’ll also want to change your network’s service set identifier, or SSID. This is the name you see on the list of available networks when you go to connect to the network with a device. The default SSID probably includes the make and model number of your router, which is valuable info for hackers looking to pin down your router type. Change the network name to something more generic, like “BillWitheScienceFi” or “this is my WiFi.” Refrain from including personal info, such as your name or your pet’s name, in the SSID. This protects you from identity thefts and makes it hard for hackers to figure out which network is yours.
You may have also heard that you can protect your network by turning off SSID broadcasting, so that your SSID doesn’t turn up in the list of available networks. While this can camouflage your network and keep non-tech-savvy people from getting onto it, it won’t do much to stop a hacker, who will be able to located hidden networks using a wireless sniffer.
Encrypt Your Network and Hide It Behind a Firewall
If your router is relatively new – made within the last 10 years – it should include built-in encryption that you can activate. Go into your router’s settings and turn on WPA2 (or WPA2-PSK) encryption. Choose the AES option, not the TPIK. If you have a brand-new router with WPA3 encryption, choose that option instead. If your router doesn’t have at least WPA2, get a new router.
When you enable the encryption, you’ll need to change your network key. This will be the password that you’ll need to enter to connect devices to the network, so it should be easy to enter on a range of devices, but still secure. Use a mix of lower- and uppercase letters, special characters, and numbers.
Next, activate your router’s firewall if it’s not already activated. You might need to look for something called network address translation (NAT) or stateful packet inspection (SPI). A firewall on your router protects your network from external attacks. You should also be using a firewall on any devices that you use to access the network. This keeps malware on your own devices from sending information over the Internet without your permission. Choose a security app like Trend Micro Maximum Security for a second layer of protection.
There are ways that you can limit the number of devices that are allowed to connect to your network, such as limiting or disabling DHCP to cut down on the number of IP addresses your network can use, or filtering MAC addresses so that only your manually pre-approved devices can connect. While some argue that these measures make your network more secure, they can also make it more of a pain to actually use the network, especially these days when everything from your phone to your refrigerator to your toothbrush needs internet access. These strategies can also be daunting for the non-IT-professionals among us. If you want even more security for your network without the hassle of individually approving countless devices, consider using a virtual private network (VPN).
With so much of our lives occurring online these days, securing your home wireless network should be a priority. Encrypting your network doesn’t have to mean pulling your hair out. Take these easy steps to stay safe.