Protecting Your Wireless Router

Imagine a fortified city with walls so high that nothing gets in or out unless you want it to.  And now imagine, after ten years of impenetrability, that the entire city falls; not because the walls are toppled, but because the enemy simply walks in through the gate.  If this sounds familiar to you, well, it should.  This is the story of the Trojan War, won by the Greeks only when they were able to gain access to the city through the gates by disguising themselves as a massive, wooden trophy horse.  But this narrative could be more real, and personal, to you than you realize.  Devices that are connected to the internet are constantly being under attack (one such method is aptly named a Trojan Horse), and while there are several measures that you can take to protect yourself, all of that would be for naught if the attacker simply waltzed through the metaphorical gates of your online defenses.

The router, or any other gateway device, is the gate to your internet devices.  When compromised, all of the devices connected to the router will be more vulnerable as well.  As a result, it is imperative that your router is adequately secured from such attacks, which is why our guide begins here.  Here are some measures that you can, and should take to protecting your router, and as a result, your network of connected devices.

Note: You will need to access your router’s administrative console in order to change the following settings.  In order to do so, you will need to find your router’s IP address.

If you are using Windows:

  1. Open the Start Menu and type “cmd” in the search line.

  2. In the command prompt, type “ipconfig”.

  3. The IP address listed under “Default Gateway” will be your router’s IP address.

If you are using Mac:

  1. Open the System Preferences from the Apple Menu on the top left corner.

  2. Access the “Network” preferences.

  3. Select the network that you are connected to from the list of networks on the left, and press “Advanced…”.

  4. Your router’s IP address will be found under the “TCP/IP” menu.

Once found, type it into your router’s address bar, and input the username and password.  If you have never changed your password, then you can find the default from this list.  However, it is imperative that you change your password once you have logged in to a strong password (see Tip #5).

Tips to securing your Wireless Network

1. Password protection with WPA2 encryption (why WPA2, how can you create a strong password?)

Most wireless routers have the encryption disabled by default, but this is something that you absolutely need to enable when you setup your router.  Enabling encryption will make your data harder to read for hackers attempting to steal confidential information.  Whatever you do, avoid using the WEP protocol, which has been found to be insecure and insufficient for protecting your wireless network.  WPA is the new standard, and for most home uses, WPA2 will be the best choice.  When you enable data encryption, you will need to create a strong password for your network.  Read this article to help you create a strong and secure password.  These settings will typically be found under the “Wireless” option in your router page, along with the SSID options (see tips #2 and #3).

2. Change the SSID name or…

The SSID is the name of the wireless network that is displayed publicly (when people refresh the list of wireless networks, this is what they will see).  By default, the SSID for many routers will include the make and model of the router.  In order to keep as much information about your network and router private, you should change the SSID (to something that does not relate to the password, and something that does not pertain to your personal life).

3. Turn off SSID broadcasting altogether

It may be useful for a company or a cafe to broadcast the WiFi, but very few people will need to know your WiFi, and for the few that do, you will most likely be there to tell them.  Hiding your SSID keeps your network invisible from the public.

4. Enable your router’s firewall

Most routers will have a hardware firewall feature, which will control what type of information passes through the router to and from your computers.  Firewalls are a highly effective way to keep your devices secure, and they are strongly recommended.  The firewall settings can typically be accessed under a “Security” tab in your router’s administrative console.

5. Change your router’s password

Changing the password for the wireless network may still leave your router vulnerable.  You will need to create a strong password to protect your router from unwanted tampering.  This setting can typically be found under an “Administration” tab.

Additional Security Measures

1. MAC filtering

The MAC address is a unique identifier for network devices.  Many routers have a MAC filtering feature, which allows you to input the MAC address of specific devices which will be allowed to connect to your wireless network.  All other devices will be blocked from using the network.

2. Network monitoring app (to monitor who is using your network)

There are free network monitoring apps that will allow you to monitor what devices are using your network.  Some routers also have this feature built-in.

3. Disable wireless administration

Disabling wireless administration will require you to be connected to the router via ethernet cable in order to access the administrative console.  Considering that you may not need to access these settings too frequently, this would be a safe measure to protect against any unwanted tampering to your router settings.

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