Setting up a wireless home network is a simple task these days but basic wireless home network security is often forgotten. Manufacturers have worked tirelessly to make the process of setting up a home network accessible to users of all skill levels, creating set-up wizards that walk us through the process step by step. However, these simplified set-up methods often leave networks open to security risks. With many homes connecting a wide range of devices from computers and mobile devices to security cameras and smart home devices, unsecured networks can leave a lot of sensitive data vulnerable to hackers. Consider for example, how much information a network connected camera in your home can leave up for grabs.
This is why we recommend learning to set up at least a basic level of wireless home network security. This task needn’t be daunting, in fact, with a little bit of patience and know-how it can be quite simple. Let us help you get there with this guide to basic wireless home network security.
The first thing you should do when taking any device out of the box is to check if any updates are available. Manufacturers often release updates that patch security vulnerabilities as they’re discovered so even if your device is brand new, it might not be secure until you’ve updated it. This applies to routers as well as any device that you plan to connect to your wireless home network. Typically, you’ll be prompted to update your device as you work through the set-up process. You’ll often get prompts for further updates throughout the life of the device but in some cases you’ll have to check to see if updates are available using the device’s dashboard. As a good rule of thumb, we recommend consulting the owner’s manual to find out if you need manually check for updates and make a note of this.
Wireless routers typically have default admin usernames and passwords. These default credentials pose a significant security risk as they’re often the same across devices of the same make and model. For this reason, it’s important to change these right away and select secure passwords—if possible, use a password generator. While making this change when setting up your router is crucial, it’s also a very good practice to change the default credentials to individual devices connected to your network.
Making this change to your devices should be fairly straightforward and should be outlined in the owner’s manuals.
Every router has a default wireless network name, or SSID. This is often found printed on the bottom of the device and is the network name you search for when trying to connect a device wirelessly. Changing this SSID is important because it makes it more challenging for hackers to figure out which model of router you have, making it more difficult for them to find vulnerabilities to exploit.
In addition to changing the SSID, we recommend creating a separate network for guests. This separates guest access from your home’s, which is a good practice even if you have the utmost trust in your guests because you never know what kind of malware could have found its way onto their devices.
All routers support some form of wireless encryption, which scrambles data so it can’t be read by humans if it’s intercepted as it travels over the network. While encryption technology has changed over the years and several options are available, we recommend you look for a router that supports WPA2 encryption and enable it.
WPS, also known as Wi-Fi Protected Set-Up, is a protocol that allows you to easily connect devices to your network by pressing the WPS button on your router and on the device you want to connect. While this sounds like a great feature, the WPS protocol is easy to crack. As such, we recommend disabling it.
Modern routers come with built-in network firewalls that can be disabled. Check your router’s settings to make sure that the firewall is enabled. This will protect your network and the devices connected to it.
Making sure your router’s firewall is enabled is important but it’s also a great idea to ensure that your devices are protected by antivirus software. There are a wide range of options for antivirus software out there so do some research and find one that works for you. Bitdefender, Norton 360, and Kaspersky are popular choices that offer software for both Windows and Mac. There are some free options out there as well, so there’s really no reason not to use an antivirus.
Many Wi-Fi router owners will tuck routers away, often around the perimeter of their home causing two issues. First, the Wi-Fi network often doesn’t provide coverage for the entire home causing connectivity issues in certain rooms. Second, this means that a large portion of the Wi-Fi coverage leaks outside the home. While some leakage isn’t an issue, the larger the area your Wi-Fi network covers outside the home, the more potential there is that someone could detect the signal and attempt to exploit it. The best way to deal with this is to position your router in the center of your home, away from windows. This keeps the signal in your home rather than leaving it spilling out into the street or even neighbouring homes.
Naturally if you live in a small condo or apartment, Wi-Fi network leakage is inevitable, making it possible for your neighbours to detect your network. In these cases, it’s especially important to ensure that you’ve implemented the tips mentioned above.
If you’re going to be away for weeks or even months and don’t rely on any Wi-Fi connected home devices for security or to keep your home running, we recommend turning off your wireless network. If you’re using a wireless router, devices that are connected to the network using a wired Ethernet connection can still continue to work if you shut the router down. This minimizes the chances that someone could find and exploit your Wi-Fi network while you’re away.
With these basic tips, you can set up a secure wireless home network that protects your family’s privacy.