Over the last decade, home networking has improved but is still daunting when you set out to do it yourself. Many of us work from home today or, at the least, spend a lot of our time there. Having a secure home network setup is crucial because it allows you to access information and entertainment in the best possible manner.
Handling a home network setup is easier than it looks. I'm old enough to remember the first DSL modems that came with Windows 95. Compared to that, today, it's child's play. Whether you have a wireless router in your house or have decided to set up a wireless mesh network, you need this guide.
Before You Begin Your Home Network Setup
The term “home network setup” is quite generic. The reason for this is simply because it's a vague goal, not a checklist. Aside from functionality, security is an essential factor in every home network. You need something robust that offers better safeguards against cyber threats.
Most home users don't look past getting a device to simply work. Because of this, hackers often target home networks as the low-hanging fruit they can easily pick. By following some of the tips below, you can increase your digital safety.
Building The Ideal Secure Home Network
The first step in setting up your home network is to decide what hardware you need. Wired access is typically faster than wireless, but most people don't want the bother of having cables going everywhere. Because of that, wireless has become common for most home networks.
Start With The Internet Service Provider
The first thing to do for your home network setup is to apply for an Internet plan from your service provider of choice. Without Internet, your home network setup isn't going to do much. The reason why we're starting with the ISP is that many provide an integral part of your home network setup – the router.
Choosing the Right Wireless Router
The problem with getting a free router with your Internet plan is that most of them are junk. Not all routers are equal and how effective they are will depend on your needs. More connected devices and a heavier data load will require more powerful routers.
The choice is subjective, but in general, going with one of the major router brands like Asus or Netgear is a good idea. I recommend a solid AX router for better wireless speeds (mine is the Asus AX86U) but for those on a budget you can easily replace that with something like the older but still reliable Asus AC86U.
Setting Up The Home Network
Step 1, Once your Internet line is in place you will have an incoming cable to your home. Plug that into your router's WAN port (it's usually labeled as such).
Step 2. Turn on your router and connect an ethernet cable from one of the router LAN ports to your PC or laptop.
Step 3. Most routers will have a default IP address (such as 192.168.1.1 or 192.168.0.1) to access their configuration menu. That, plus the default username and password usually comes with the router documentation. Launch your web browser and type in that IP address to enter your router configuration page.
Step 4. Enter the Internet connection details you got from your ISP. This usually includes a username and password. When done, hit the “connect” button and you'll have Internet access on connected devices.
Enabling Wireless on Your Home Network Setup
Once you've got your Internet working it's time to get everything wireless. The settings for this will be separate from the basic Internet configuration of your router. If you're happy using a wired connection for everything you can skip these steps.
Step 1. In your router configuration menu, select the “Wireless” option.
Step 2. By right, all you need to do is to enable the wireless option here. However, wireless is pretty unsafe with its default settings. You'll need to read on to see how to improve the security of your home network setup for the wireless portion.
Increasing the Security of Your Home Network Setup
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 Your Network Name (SSID)
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 easy to guess.
Hidden SSIDs make it harder for hackers to find your router. This invisibility can prevent 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 don’t 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.
Use Complex Admin Passwords for Devices
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, unique, and complex 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 should set one up. Your guests can connect to the internet without you having to share your primary password.
Strengthen WiFi Encryption
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 freely available hacker tools can otherwise crack weaker WiFi encryption.
Use a Virtual Private Network
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 actual IP is also hidden. Bear in mind that when you frequently use public Wifi 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 very detailed NordVPN review) for its great price and feature balance.
WiFi Protected Setup Kills Secure Home Networks
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.
Turn Off Universal Plug and Play
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 smart devices a security vulnerability. So, once you have set up a device via Universal Plug and Play (UPNP), just turn off its UPNP capabilities and also in your router.
Block Remote Management Access
Standard routers support remote access; you can access the console over the internet from elsewhere. When this happens, your login credentials travel through the air and might be intercepted by hackers. So, it is highly recommended to disable remote access to your router’s admin panel.
Although turning on the remote access for a while may not suddenly expose you to the worst, it is safer not to. Remember, your router’s console should only be accessible from devices directly connected to the network.
Enable HTTPs for Your Router Interface
The Secure HTTP feature is crucial to have as it provides you with a secure and encrypted method to access the router via a web browser using Secure Sockets Layer and Transport Layer Security. This helps prevent your HTTP sessions from being intercepted or attacked.
It is also a good practice to always log out when your task is done. Never allow the browser to save the router's username and password. Remember to also use the browser in incognito mode whenever working with the router. This is so that no session cookies get left behind.
Change the Default LAN IP Address
Take note that routers are likely assigned the first address in a predefined netblock, for example, 192.168.0.1. If you can, change this to something else that's easy to remember and is not part of the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) pool.
It would be better if the entire netblock used by the router is changed to a non-default one – 192.168.10.x instead of 192.168.0.x. Doing so can protect against cross-site request forgery (CSRF) attacks. This is where users' browsers are hijacked when visiting malicious websites, and then your router can be accessed via the default commonly assigned IP addresses.
Secure Home Networks Need a Firewall
Firewalls are crucial to every secure home network. While antivirus software helps protect you from incoming email and files, a firewall is 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 Windows firewall on or off as necessary.
Keep Router Firmware Updated
Although your router’s manufacturer should automatically update the firmware, you should regularly check for updates as well. Usually, router manufacturers will issue security patches when there is an outbreak of a severe attack. So, check your router’s manufacturer website for any such updates.
Allocate Static IP Addresses
As explained, all devices on your wireless network have a unique IP address. Your device’s IP is only unique on your private network, whereas your router uses a public address to represent you on the internet.
Bear in mind that your router uses DHCP to allocate IP addresses to each device on the network. Unfortunately, hackers can manipulate DHCP to allocate a network address to them, making this hard to spot and differentiate.
So, you’ll need to stop the router from using DHCP and shift to using static IPs instead. Depending on the router model, the steps to do so will differ.
Place Your Router in a Strategic Position
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 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
The Need for a Secure Home Network Setup is Real
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 tip of the iceberg. Therefore, you must take measures to protect your home network and family from intruders and snoopers.
Conclusion: Enjoy Peace of Mind in Safety
Your home should be a safe place to be in, physically and digitally. A secure home network is vital and should also be a top priority for everyone, so get started by following the tips listed above.