Many people buy a wireless router, bring it home, plug it in, connect it — and then forget about their Wi-Fi network.
When you fail to secure your wireless network, not only can someone use your network for illegal or malicious activities, they can also steal user names, passwords, bank account information, Social Security numbers and other personal information you have stored on your computers and other devices.
How To Secure Your Home Wireless Network
Take a few minutes to secure your wireless network to ensure your safety.
1. Change Your Router Password
Each router comes with a default password that allows you to log in to the router. Change the password when you install the router and then change it again every few months.
Choose a strong password that is at least eight characters long — the longer the better. Use a combination of numbers, uppercase and lowercase letters and symbols.
2. Disable Remote Administration
Remote administration allows you to log in to the router remotely via the internet and make setting changes to the router. Most people never use this feature and unless you do use it, remote administration should be disabled.
3. Change Your SSID
The SSID (Service Set Identifier) is the name of the wireless network. All routers have a default SSID. You must know the SSID to connect to a wireless network.
If there are several wireless networks in range and they have the same SSID, it can be difficult to figure out which network is yours. Changing the SSID also adds a bit of security. If a hacker knows the brand of router you have based on the default SSID name, it’s easier to determine what vulnerabilities that particular brand of router has.
A hacker may be able to use that information to break into your network. When you change the default SSID, choose a random set of characters. Do not use your name, address or any other personal information when creating the SSID.
Consider changing the SSID a few times a year.
4. Disable SSID Broadcast
The SSID of the router is broadcast to anyone within range of your wireless network. That means your neighbors and anyone close to the router can see your wireless network.
You want to disable SSID broadcast after you have set up and configured your router and successfully connected your computers and other devices to the router for the first time. After you disable the SSID broadcast, people looking at their list of available wireless networks will no longer see your network listed.
Disabling the SSID is not a strong security measure in itself, but combined with other security actions, it gives you an additional layer of security.
5. Use MAC Filtering
MAC filtering allows you to specify which devices are allowed and not allowed to connect to your network. Each network card has a specific media access control address (MAC address), and no two hardware devices use the same MAC address.
A MAC address consists of six pairs of numbers separated by a colon. Wireless routers have a setting called “MAC filtering.” Using MAC filtering, you can log in to your router and enter the MAC addresses of the devices you would like to allow to connect to your wireless network. All other devices will be locked out.
You can also block specific MAC addresses from connecting to your router. Some hackers have mimicked MAC addresses, so don’t rely on this alone.
6. Use Encryption
Encryption encodes the data transmitted between your computer and other devices and your wireless router. Use the strongest type of encryption your router supports.
Choose a strong, unique preshared key/passphrase. This key will be used by anyone who is connecting to your wireless network.
As with any other key or password, choose one that is at least eight characters long and has a combination of numbers, upper and lower case letters and symbols. Change the key a few times a year.
7. Disable Wireless Protected Setup
If your router offers Wireless Protect Setup (WPS), it is best to disable that feature. Hackers have found a way to exploit the PIN feature to get your password.
Wi-Fi protected setup allows you to connect devices to the router using a PIN or Push Button Connect. Using the PIN option, you enter the PIN number on your device to connect.
Push Button Connect lets you push a button on the router or click a button while logged into the router, and for a limited amount of time, a device within range can connect. This allows devices to connect without someone knowing the passphrase.
8. Pay Attention to Device Lists
Most routers have a device list feature. You can view the list to see what devices are currently connected to your router. You should occasionally review the list and make sure only devices you know are connecting.
9. Be Careful With Guest Access
Most routers have a guest access option. This feature allows guests to connect to your router. If you do not use guest access, turn it off.
If you do have guests who need wireless access, use this feature. This gives them access to your Wi-Fi without allowing them access to your actual network: things such as shared files and folders, shared printers and other sensitive network information.
Some routers also allow you to restrict how much bandwidth a guest is permitted to use. Choose a secure preshared key/passphrase for guest access and change it often.
10. Consider Unplugging Your Router at Night or When You Are Away
A router cannot be compromised if it is disconnected. Consider unplugging your router when you leave the house for the day, leave for vacation or when you are done using it for the day. This will prevent any malicious activity. It could also prevent a power surge and save money on your electric bill.
11. Keep Your Router Software Updated
The software that is installed on your router is called firmware. Manufacturers will release firmware updates to improve performance and to address bugs and security issues. Check for updates a few times a year.
You can check for firmware updates by logging into the router. Most have a tab lets you check for updates from that page. You can also go directly to the manufacturer’s website and download the updates.
12. Try a VPN
VPN stands for “virtual private network,” and it protects your privacy by hiding your device’s IP address. It encrypts your data and routes it through a secure network to a server. Basically, anything you do on your device is kept private and anonymous.
Since a VPN uses encryption to protect your data, the process can take some time which could cause your connection to slow down. Not all VPNs work the same way, so it is important that you do your research and read some reviews when choosing a VPN.
Here are a few options I recommend:
While free VPN options exist, you should use only reputable, trustworthy companies.
All of this may seem overwhelming, but don’t let it intimidate you. The process of protecting your Wi-Fi network can be a bit time-consuming, but it’s pretty simple to follow the steps.
You can change the settings on your router using the software provided with the router or by using a web browser on your computer.
Taking the time to set up, configure and maintain your home network properly is important, and the effort is more than worth the peace of mind it provides.