Holiday helper: Securing your home router

December 26, 2014 | Dan Colt

On a lot of tech-geeks’ wish lists this holiday season, or what they’ll be buying for themselves in the New Year, will no doubt be a new wired or wireless home router to speed up their home network or take advantage of a faster Internet connection and the increased download speeds being offered by several local cable ISPs. A lot of these new routers are very easy to set up by just using the setup wizard and accepting the defaults but, unfortunately, this will leave your home network vulnerable to being hacked.

There’s no telling just how many routers out there still use the default passwords, but it’s safe to bet that a lot, if not most, of those passwords are never changed once the router is set up. This is due to the fact that many router setup wizards don’t prompt the user to change the default administrator password, and most routers bury this setting way down in the menu where most homeowners will never see it.

Keeping in mind that the holidays are full of new gadgets, it seems like the perfect time to review some simple settings you can change to make sure your home router is as secure as possible. Keep in mind that not all routers will have all these settings and most routers will have many more.

Change the administrator password

This is the single most important change you can make to secure your home network from intruders! If you did not change your router’s default password or it is a simple password like “password,” “password1,” “admin” or “1234,” change it immediately. When changing it, use at least 8 characters, using both letters and numbers, uppercase and lowercase, and at least one special character. Do not delay—do this as soon as possible!

Change the default Service Set Identifier (SSID or Network Name)

This is another setting that most people neglect to change on their router. Keeping the default wireless SSID almost always indicates the manufacturer of the device, which would allow the would-be hacker to focus on just the known vulnerabilities of that particular device. If you didn’t change the default password and left the Remote Management setting on, they have everything they need to access your network. Change the default name, and remember to avoid using any personal information such as family name or address.

Disable Remote Management

This is a feature that most routers have, but most people will never need. It allows you to log in and manage the router from outside your network. There aren’t too many situations where this is useful, so you should disable it unless absolutely necessary. If you REALLY need to access your router remotely, change the default port number (usually 8080 or 8888) to something less obvious and use an extremely complex administrator password.

Use Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA or WPA2), not Wireless Encryption Protocal (WEP)

These are all encryption protocols, but WEP has been replaced by WPA and WPA2. It has been known for years that WEP is no longer secure and can be easily hacked, but many home users continue to use it. So check your settings and only use WPA or WPA2.

Make sure your demilitarized zone/perimeter network (DMZ) is turned off

Even though most routers have DMZ features that are usually turned off by default, it is good practice to verify this after your initial setup or after you or someone else has been troubleshooting your network. Sometimes people turn it on when troubleshooting a connection issue, and then forget to turn it off again, so it never hurts to double-check.

To be clear, changing these settings is not a guaranteed way of securing your home network, but most are fairly simple to change and cost you nothing. Once you make these changes, I bet you’ll feel a lot safer surfing the internet into the New Year.

The content provided in this blog consists of the opinions and ideas of the author alone and should be used for informational purposes only. Mission Federal Credit Union disclaims any liability for decisions you make based on the information provided.

Dan Colt

Dan Colt

Dan Colt is VP Technology Management at Mission Federal Credit Union. He has over 25 years of experience in the Information Technology industry, including numerous aspects such as security, data processing, disaster recovery and project management.

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