Increasing router security is not as tough as you may think: Internet Scambusters #768
Got a router? So, what do you know about router security?
In this week's issue, we'll explain in simple terms how to make that little device that runs your home network do its job more securely.
It's not as tough as you might think and just doing the basics will greatly strengthen your network security.
Let's get started...
5 Easy Steps to Router Security
If you have a home network, you almost certainly have a router, the device that connects all of your various devices -- PCs, laptops, mobiles, security systems, webcams, etc. -- to the Internet and to each other.
It's the hub at the center of your network, so it's also the gateway that hackers can use to access, and even hijack, your system.
Yet, remarkably, most people don't know how their router works or how to control the security settings to make it tougher for criminals to break in.
That's partly because the people who make routers haven't yet gotten around to making them easy to manage.
They're stuffed with technical jargon and bewildering controls that don't mean a lot to the average user -- with the result that many people leave themselves dangerously exposed to outside interference.
In fact, the whole world of networking is a no-go area for most of us.
However, even with limited knowledge or expertise, there are a few things you can do to make your router more secure.
Your most valuable weapon is the manual that came with the device, which likely explains how to access the settings via your PC and how to make key changes to things like security settings and passwords.
Don't have the manual? Fear not. You can probably download it from the web. All you need is the name and model of the device. The name will probably be on the front but you may have to look at the back or underneath for the model number.
Then just do a search using this info plus the word "manual" and you should be in business.
But even without this information, all is not lost. Let's take a look...
Accessing Your Router's Management Page
Assuming your router is already connected to your network, you can use your web browser -- like Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, Firefox or Safari -- to view its management page.
How? Your router, like everything else on your network, has an "IP address," a series of four numbers that look something like this: 192.168.1.01.
If you have the manual, you'll find the address there. If not, again you can probably find it online by searching on the name and the term "IP address."
You can find the number by visiting your PC's "network and sharing center" in the control panel (or via "network" in Windows 10 settings).
We don't have the space to explain the steps here, but it's fairly simple and you'll find the details, with helpful illustrations in 10 Useful Options You Can Configure In Your Router’s Web Interface.
Once you have that number, simply key it in the address bar of your browser and hit "enter" on your keyboard.
The Password Challenge
Now, you'll be asked for a username and password. Again, you may find these in the manual or on a sticker on the back or bottom of the router. (Note, the password is not the same one you use to log onto your network.)
If you've never changed this info in the past, there's a high chance the default username will be "admin" or "administrator" and the password will be "password." You can see straightaway why it will be important to change these -- those words are the first ones a hacker will try!
If those words don't work and you don't know the correct ones, you may get an option to recover the password by keying in the serial number of the router (again, it's on the bottom or back).
If that fails, you can return the router to its factory settings by finding and pressing a tiny "reset" button on the device. Then you'll have to go online to find the default username and password by searching the manufacturer's website.
Do a search on the name and the words "default password" -- e.g., "Netgear R6100 default password."
What to Change
Whew! That was actually the tough bit. Because now, you should have open in front of you a page that gives you access to all your router's controls.
Every router's home page settings look different from the others so we can only offer general guidance on what to change rather than how to change it.
It's possible your router may have some kind of "Wizard" that will walk you through security changes. If not, read on...
The first thing to do is to make sure you keep a note of any changes you make, so that if you screw it up you can restore the original settings. (Using the reset button mentioned above will also do this.)
Then, as a minimum, do the following 5 key things:
- Check for available updates to the router's "firmware." There may be an option listed on the router management page or you may have to do a separate search on the maker's website. If there's an update, select to install or run it. Router makers often improve the security of their devices and you make this check a regular thing.
- Now, change that darned username and password. Again, make sure you keep a note of the new ones. You're already on the way to making your router more secure!
- Look for a setting that says something like "Security Options" or "Encryption." This usually lists different modes using letters and numbers in order of security strength -- from weakest to strongest. If you can, select at least WPA2 followed by something like "PSK" and/or "AES." But even the most basic encryption -- WEP -- is better than nothing.
- If there's an option for a guest network, switch that on. That way, you don't need to give your password to visitors who might want to use your network.
- If there's a setting for a built-in firewall (not all routers have this), make sure it's switched on.
It may not be called a firewall but something like "NAT filtering." Most makers leave it switched off by default. Switching on works in addition to any firewall setting you have in your Internet security software.
There are several other things you can do to make your router safer -- check the manual for this -- but, if you just do these five things, you will have taken a giant stride in the right direction!
Alert of the Week
We've written a lot about grant scams. Now the U.S. government, whose name is used in a lot of these tricks, has issued its own warning that you should never pay to receive a grant.
If you're asked to pay, it's definitely a scam.
You can find out about the real government grants process in their article: A Short Summary of Federal Grants.
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!