Are you skilled enough to set up a secure home network? Over the past year, there have been notable shifts in the digital space. Many have ended up working from home, and students are eLearning.
This paradox means that households are becoming increasingly dependant on the home networks. These useful but fragile micro-infrastructures are easily compromised, potentially putting your devices and data at risk.
The Need for Better Security is Real
A home network refers to a group of devices connected via an (often wireless) router. The router acts as a gateway to the Internet, so you will need to learn how to secure this device. Just as it allows you to traverse cyberspace, it acts as a medium for others to digitally enter your home.
Many wireless routers are vulnerable to exploits by hackers. By using these loopholes, nefarious users can sneak in and access your systems. WiFi extends beyond the walls of your home, and it can be difficult to control who has access to devices.
Once a cybercriminal is in your network, they can pretty much do whatever they want; identity theft, data theft, and malware insertions are just the tips of the iceberg. Therefore, you must take measures to protect your home network and family from intruders and snoopers.
Steps Towards Building a Secure Home Network
While there’s no way to be 100% secure, you can carry out the following steps to at least make it harder for cybercriminals:
Change the Name of Your Router
Every router comes with a default ID – Service Set Identifier (SSID) assigned by the manufacturer. You have to change this to a unique name that is not easily guessed by others. Never include any personal information, as it may be something hat’s easy to guess.
Hidden SSIDs make it harder for hackers to find your router. This prevents them from exploiting known vulnerabilities in your network. Also, you need to hide the network by blocking your router from sending out its identifier.
Note that existing connected devices already have connection data stored, but others won’t be able to as they’ll usually see ‘Hidden network’. If you need to add new devices later, you can temporarily turn on the SSID broadcast to let your new device see the network. Once the connection is up, you can then make the network hidden again.
Change Your Router Default Admin Credentials
Your router would have come with a default username and password. Leaving these unchanged makes it easier for hackers to access your network; they can look for its default credentials by going to specific sites. So, you need to change the default username password. Please use strong and unique passwords.
You also need to limit access to the Admin credentials to only your family members. Also, it is a good habit to change them frequently. If your router supports the option of setting up a ‘guest’ network with its separate SSID and password, you can set up a guest account. Your guests can connect to the internet without you having to share your main password.
Strengthen Security Options
You need to turn on WiFi Protected Access II (WPA2) encryption with Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). WPA2 AES uses the AES cipher to protect transmissions and the encryption is almost impossible to crack. This ensures strong WiFi encryption, as there are several freely available hacker tools that can otherwise crack weaker WiFi encryption.
Use a VPN
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are primarily used to improve privacy and security on the internet. By installing a VPN on your router, you’ll not only be adding extra layers of protection, but your true IP is also hidden. Bear in mind that when you frequently use public wi-fi hotspots and then bring your mobile devices home to connect to your network, your router can become an easy target.
A VPN encrypts the traffic from and to your devices, to a remote server that is way beyond your router. So even if the encryption provided by the router encounters issues, you still have the VPN encryption to protect your data.
Installing a VPN on your router effectively protects all connections on your home network. Therefore, you are advised to go for a reputable and trusted VPN. personally, we really recommend NordVPN (see our review here) for its great price and features.
Disable WPS and UPNP
WiFi Protected Setup (WPS) allows new devices to be recognized on the network and then connect to the router. If your router has a WPS button at the back, pressing it will add the device to the network with the login credentials. Otherwise, you can use an eight-character numeric code that needs to be entered into the network settings of the device.
Now, WPS has a security weakness as its code method is easy to crack. So, if your router has a WPS button, it is best to turn off the WPS code capabilities and rely on this button. If you don’t, you need to turn off WPS completely.
As for Universal Plug and Play (UPNP), this is used to help your home devices discover the network and communicate with the manufacturer for firmware updates. This technology is essential to the Internet of Things (IoT) and typically makes your devices ‘smart’. Your router needs to support UPNP for these gadgets to access the internet.
The absence of password protection for these devices and the tendency for manufacturers to reuse the same password, make these smart devices a security vulnerability. So, once you have set up a device via UPNP, just turn off its UPNP capabilities and also in your router.
Make Sure Remote Management is Disabled
A standard router supports remote access; you can access the console over the internet, from elsewhere. This means that your login credentials travel through the air and might be intercepted by hackers. So, it is best to disable remote access to your router’s admin panel.
Use a Firewall
Firewalls are crucial to every secure home network. While antivirus software helps protect you from incoming email and files, a firewall is literally a guard, keeping watch over any unauthorized attempts. They typically filter and block communications with sources you don’t permit.
Many routers today have a firewall built-in. Please turn it on as it can protect your network from potential cyberattacks. If yours doesn’t have one, you can install a good firewall device to your router instead.
If you don't have this, at least make sure a local version is running. Windows, for example, has a firewall as well. You can turn it on or off as necessary.
Regularly Update your Router’s Firmware
Although your router’s manufacturer should automatically update the firmware, it is best that you regularly check for updates as well. Usually, router manufacturers will issue security patches when there is an outbreak of a serious attack. So, check your router’s manufacturer website for any such updates.
Place Your Router in a Strategic Position
You may not be aware of this but the location of your router does have an impact on your security. You’d want all the rooms in your home to have equal access to the Internet and you’d don’t want your signal to reach too much outside your home.
Simply put, you’d want the maximum coverage available while preventing the signal from going outside. A wi-fi router signal area radiates out like a ball. A poorly placed WiFi router can impact your secure home network, so place it at a central point in your home.
Keep All Your Devices Healthy
Bear in mind that hackers can access your router via your devices. Portable devices are more likely to get infected because they connect to other networks and access the internet in public places. So how do you keep your devices healthy? Here’s what you can do:
- Keep all software updated
- Avoid pirated software
- Use antivirus applications
- Practice good security habits
Conclusion: Enjoy Peace of Mind in Safety
Your home should be a safe place to be in, physically and digitally. Many focus more on the former but not so much on the latter. A secure home network is vital and should also be a top priority for everyone. You can get started by following the tips listed above. They can be very useful for non-tech savvy people too.