Five simple steps to make sure your home network is secure

If you’ve ever taken a look at the Wi-Fi section of your computer or mobile device settings, you’ve probably noticed a whole list of wireless networks – not just your own, but those of your neighbours as well. If those networks are visible to you, they’re visible to everyone else, too, including anyone sitting outside in a car with less-than-honourable intentions. At best, they could be stealing your data allowance. At worst, they could be stealing your internet banking passwords. So how do you make sure that your home wireless network is safe from hackers and thieves? Here are a few simple tips.

Change your router’s default login settings

Whether your router came supplied by your ISP, or you bought one off the shelf, it will have arrived with a default administrator’s username and password. These codes allow you to log into the router and do things like set up your wireless network. Unfortunately, both the username and password are usually set to something generic, like “admin”. You should change both of these immediately to prevent neighbours or cyber criminals from getting into your router settings and wreaking havoc.

Change your default network name

As soon as you turn your router on it will begin broadcasting a wireless network SSID (Service Set Identifier), which enables you to find the network and get online. The pre-set SSID could reveal both the make and model of your router, and from there it’s easy for anyone to look up the generic administrator logins online – they’re usually listed in the user guide. Even if you’ve changed your login settings, determined hackers know the vulnerabilities of different models of router and how to exploit them, so hiding this information by renaming your network will help to keep your data secure.

Password protect and encrypt your network

Unless you set a password for your wireless network, anyone will be able to connect to it, use your data, and potentially access other devices that are connected to it. Choose a password that is at least eight characters long and contains a good mixture of upper and lower case letters, numerals and punctuation symbols. While you’re in the wireless network settings, make sure you also turn on network encryption. There may be several choices, but the one you want is WPA2 Personal (also known as WPA2-PSK), and choose the option with AES rather than TKIP, if they’re both available.

Turn on your firewall

You probably have a firewall on your computer as part of your antivirus suite. A firewall is a programme that monitors incoming and outgoing traffic and blocks anything that seems suspicious or malicious. The good news is that most modern routers have firewalls pre-installed, and activating yours will provide you with an additional layer of security. Check your user manual to learn if your router is equipped with a firewall and how to turn it on.

Keep your firmware up to date

Just as your computer’s operating system can occasionally develop security vulnerabilities, so can the operating system of your router. It’s a good idea to log into your admin panel every month or two to check for firmware updates and apply any that are available. To log in, enter the router’s IP address into the browser of any device that’s connected to it, and then type in your username and password when prompted. If you don’t know the IP address, check your user manual or look it up online by searching for your make and model.

By following these five simple steps, you’ll make it much harder for cyber-snoops to access your home network and the devices that are connected to it.

Photo by: Tirza van Dijk