10 Steps to Maximize your Home Wireless Network Security [Updated]
Sometimes the keys to your life go through your Wi-Fi
You go to a bar and meet up with friends. You connect to the Wi-fi network to show them some funny videos and photos, and also sneak a login into your email to check for any work messages. The next day, you find out someone managed to log in into your email account.
You couldn’t know this beforehand , but the local bar owner didn’t secure his Wi-fi. This allowed a malicious hacker to breach the wireless network’s security and collect the data from all the people in the bar, including yourself.
Already 20 smartphones and laptops are ours. If he wanted to, Slotboom could now completely ruin the lives of the people connected: He can retrieve their passwords, steal their identity, and plunder their bank accounts.
This quote belongs to a Dutch journalist who witnessed how an ethical hacker broke into the phones of over 20 people in a Netherlands café.
This may seem extreme, but it’s actually surprisingly easy to do. This time, it happened in a bar, but it could just as easily have been your own home wireless network.
The 10 steps we’ve included in this article will show you how to secure your Wifi and keep the (cyber)bad guys out.
What is a home wireless network?
In a few simple words, a normal home wireless network means connecting an Internet access point, such as a cable from your Internet Service Provider, to a (wireless) router in order to allow multiple devices to connect to that network very quickly.
But if you don’t take a few security and privacy steps, cybercriminals can break into your home Wi-Fi network and compromise your data.
The only measure most people use to protect their home network is to set up a password and prevent neighbors from hogging your data. But a more serious risk is that an online criminal might exploit your poor Wi-fi security measures and “listen” to your traffic in order to retrieve sensitive information or take advantage of your network to launch malicious attacks such as Man-in-the-Middle attacks, network sniffing or data theft.
Though relatively easy to use and access, Wi-Fi networks are not always SECURE networks. For this reason, learning how to secure your wireless home network against cybercriminals is a pretty smart move.
Given how many Internet of Things devices you own (or probably will own), making sure your network is extra safe carries even more weight, even though sometimes taking care of your cybersecurity can be a real chore.
Here’s how you can go about securing your home network:
1. Change the name of your home wireless network
The first thing you should do to is to change the name of your Wi-Fi network, also known as the SSID (Service Set Identifier).
While giving your Wi-Fi a somewhat provocative name such as “Can’t hack this” may backfire at times, other names such as “this is not a wifi” or “too fly for a wifi” are perfectly acceptable.
Changing your Wi-Fi’s name makes it harder for malicious hackers to know what type of router you have. If a cybercriminal knows the manufacturer of your router, they will know what vulnerabilities that model has and then exploit them.
But don’t name your home network something like “Andrew’s Wi-Fi”. You don’t want them to know at first glance which wireless network is yours when there are 3-4 other neighboring Wi-Fi’s. Also, disclosing too much personal information on a wireless network name may expose you to an identity theft operation.
This simple guide shows you how to change the name of your wireless network.
2. Choose a strong and unique password for your wireless network
Your wireless router comes pre-set with a default password. But it’s fairly easy for hackers to guess it, especially if they know the manufacturer.
A good wireless password should be at least 20 characters long and include numbers, letters and various symbols.
Use this guide to set up a strong password for your network. Friends coming over for a visit may complain about the unusual length of your password, but this might discourage them from needlessly consuming your data with boring Facebook or Instagram posts.
3. Improve your Wi-Fi security by enabling network encryption
Wireless networks come with multiple encryption languages, such as WEP, WPA or WPA2. WEP was first developed in the 1990’s, so it’s ancient by modern standards and easy to crack. WPA was more of a stopgap measure between WEP and WPA2, the encryption language still in use today.
But even WPA2 has multiple variants of its own. One is TKIP, but it’s a pretty old encryption method first developed with WPA, so it’s not very secure. The other is AES, short for Advanced Encryption Standard, and is an encryption system used by governments around the world, including the USA.
So the best encryption settings to increase your Wi-fi protection is WPA2 AES.
Fortunately, WPA2 AES is also a standard security system now, so all wireless networks are compatible with it.
The steps you should follow to change set up WPA2 AES varies across router models, but this is how you can do it for TP-LINK routers.
Read more about Wi-Fi encryption languages here.
4. Disable the wireless network when you’re not at home
We recommend you do this in case of prolonged absences, such as vacations. It closes any windows of opportunity malicious hackers might attempt to use while you are away.
5. Where are you placing the router in the house?
You wouldn’t think about this at first, but where you place your Wi-Fi also has a bearing on your security.
Place the wireless router as close as possible to the middle of your house. The first benefit is that all the rooms in your house have the same access to the Internet. The second benefit is that you don’t want to have your wireless signal range reach too much outside your house, where it can be easily intercepted by cybercriminals.
For this reason, don’t place your wireless router next to a window, since there’s nothing to obstruct the signal going outside your house.
6. A strong network administrator password will boost your Wi-Fi security
To set up your wireless router, you usually need to access an online platform or web page, where you can make modifications to your network settings.
Most Wi-fi routers come with default credentials such as “admin” and “password” which are easy for a malicious hacker to break into.
While changing the Wi-Fi password and name are good security measures of their own, go one step further and change the name of the network admin and the associated password. You’ll make it that much harder for cybercriminals to launch a Wi-Fi attack!
7. Disable Remote Access
Most routers allow you to access their interface only from a connected device. However, some of them allow access even from remote systems.
Once you disable remote access, cybercriminals won’t be able access to your router’s private settings from a device not connected to your wireless network.
To make this change, access the web interface and search for “Remote access” or “Remote Administration“.
8. Keep your router’s software up-to-date
Software is an important part of your wireless network security. The wireless router’s firmware, like any other software, contains flaws which can become major vulnerabilities and be ruthlessly exploited by hackers, as this unfortunate family would find out.
Unfortunately, many wireless routers don’t come with the option to autoupdate their software, so you have to go through the hassle of doing manual updates.
And even those Wi-Fi networks that can autoupdate sometimes require you to switch on this setting.
Yeah, we’ll be the first to admit that updates can sometimes be a chore. But unpatched software functions as an open invitation for cybercriminals who know how to exploit those unpatched vulnerabilities.
9. A firewall can help secure your Wi-fi network
Firewalls aren’t just software programs used on your PC. They also come in the hardware variety.
A hardware firewall does pretty much the same thing as a software one, but its biggest advantage is the addition of one extra layer of security.
The good thing about hardware firewalls, is that most of the best wireless routers come preinstalled with one. This page can help you figure out if your router has a firewall built in and how you can activate it.
Even if your router doesn’t have one , you can install a good firewall device to your router in order to protect your system from malicious hacking attempts against your wireless network.
These days, most people use the firewall solution provided by their operating systems. In case you are using dedicated security software that contains a firewall, it is a good idea to turn it on.
10. Protect the devices that connect most frequently to your wireless network
Don’t leave any exposed vulnerabilities for online criminals to pick on!
Even though you secured your router and wireless network, you need to make sure you don’t have any security holes that can be exploited by IT criminals.
Remember to always update to the most recent software available and apply the latest security patches to ensure no security hole is left open to online predators.
Even more, check which devices connect most often to your home network and make sure they have antivirus and antispyware security software installed
And finally, make sure to protect your devices using multiple security layers consisting of specialized security software such as updated antivirus programs and traffic filtering software.
To sum up
The number of wireless networks has skyrocketed. In 2010 there were 20 million Wi-Fi networks around the globe, and in just 6 years, that number increased 13 times to 260 million.
Smartphones, laptops and tablets have driven this growth, and because of how expensive data plans are, most people choose to connect their device through wireless Internet connections.
But the security of wireless networks is notoriously weak, and can allow even inexperienced hackers to break into them. It almost doesn’t matter how strong your password is or if your software is up to date, if cybercriminals can just hijack your Wi-Fi data.
So this is why we’ve written this guide on how to secure a wireless network. You still have to keep an eye out for insecure Wi-Fi routers out there however, since most will probably still use WEP and not follow these safety procedures.