Securing Your Wireless Router
In today’s world of ubiquitous availability of devices using and looking for WiFi connections, it is important to take precautions to protect access to networks for which you are responsible – particularly your home communications network.
Most people who have a home network – with broadband service provided by an ISP like AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision, among others – have a wireless router which makes it easy for several members of a household to be connected to the Internet at once, using many different kinds of devices. As most of us know, devices like desktop computers, laptop computers, personal tablets, smart phones and more can allow several members of a household and their guests to enjoy activities online all at the same time.
But with this ease of access comes the risk that your network will be available to people you don’t know – your neighbors and, in some cases, even passersby. The good news is that with some simple steps, you can secure your network, deterring unauthorized access and keeping your private network private. Remember you may be held responsible if your network is used in potentially illegal ways.
Below are several easy steps you can take to help ensure that the only people you authorize can access and use your network:
- Set a Strong Password for your Wireless Router. Wireless routers today have passwords that enable owners to log in, modify settings, and enjoy wireless access. Many of these routers are shipped with weak default passwords like “password” or the manufacturer’s name, and some don’t have a default password at all. So, the first thing to do when you get a new router is make sure you set up your own password. This action is relatively easy, although the specifics are different depending on the brand of router you have. But, in general, you will have to open a browser window and type in your router’s IP or “Internet Protocol” address. You will then be prompted for the administrator name and password and able to make the change. The best passwords to choose are long, contain letters, numbers and characters and are ones that you can remember! While there are lots of routers, here are some of the most common with their addresses to make it easier to begin:
If the router has an IP address of 192.168.1.1, for example, you can connect to it by opening a Web browser and visiting http://192.168.1.1/
- Turn Your Router’s Encryption On. Many wireless routers come with the encryption disabled – leaving the choice to you to secure your system. Make sure that either you or your broadband provider turn the encryption on as soon as the router is installed. There are a few different types of encryption. WPA2 currently is the most effective standard and all new routers support “WiFi Protected Access 2” (WPA2). Once you have set a password discussed above, you can log into your router as the administrator and turn on your router’s encryption. You do so by looking for the “wireless encryption type” on most routers and choose the current industry standard WPA2.
- Make Sure the Firewall is on. Wireless routers generally contain built-in “firewalls” to protect from intrusion, but sometimes routers are shipped with the firewall turned off.
- Don’t broadcast your Home Network’s Name. Every Network has a name – in technical terms it’s called the network “SSID” – and most wireless routers automatically (and continually) broadcast the network’s name or SSID to anyone within range of the router. So, when you fire up your device, whether at home or elsewhere, you can see what wireless networks are accessible from where you are. Some networks are identified by numbers, but others have been given personal names like “SmithFamily” or “BaseballFan”. For many residential networks, broadcasting the network name is not only unnecessary, but also risky. If you don’t want neighbors or passers-by to access your network, turn this broadcast feature off. For most routers you do this by using the same administrator password, going to settings and choosing “hide wireless network”.
- Use – and Regularly Update – Anti-Virus, Spyware and Firewall Software. One of the most effective ways to protect your computers and network from unwanted intrusions is to use updated firewall software. You should also install and use anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and keep your software up to date. There are many different types of security software available in today’s marketplace.
Finally, most wireless router manufacturers have information on their websites about how to secure their specific devices – as listed above. And, if your wireless router is supplied by your broadband Internet Service Provider, ask the installer to help you make sure some or all of the above steps have been taken.
We have provided links to some additional resources below provided by private companies and governmental organizations. While CCI has not been involved in the creation of these materials, we hope they can provide some additional assistance.
- Federal Communication Commission (FCC) guide to securing your wireless network
- OnGuardOnline.gov guide to securing your wireless network
ISP specific instructions: