Management Matters: Is your home network as safe as you think?
Vol. 79, No. 1 / January - February 2023
Danielle DavisRoe is a licensed lawyer and senior consultant at Affinity Consulting, a Missouri Bar member benefit.
You’ve probably heard that using Wi-Fi in a public place (be it the local coffee shop or the airport) isn’t the most secure way to connect to the internet. But have you stopped to consider how secure your home Wi-Fi connection is, or if your computer has a firewall?
It doesn’t matter if you’re working from home indefinitely or occasionally checking email from your residence, network security is critical to protecting your clients’ data and protecting you from cyberattacks.
How do you access your router’s configuration page?
Your router is the device that connects your home network to your internet service provider and produces your Wi-Fi. You can change all settings outlined in this article by logging into your router’s configuration page, which you can access by entering your router’s Internet Protocol (IP) address in a web browser. An IP address is a unique identifier used to communicate between devices on a network. Most routers use 192.168.1.1 for their IP address, but you can usually find your router’s default IP address on the back, side, or bottom of your physical router.
What is the name of your network?
Also known as an “SSID,” if your network’s name includes your router’s manufacturer, model number, or information that could be used to identify you, you should change the name of your network. When you first installed your router, it probably came with a default name that included the manufacturer. Different routers have different vulnerabilities. Broadcasting the router’s manufacturer makes it easier for others to hack into your home network. It’s like safecrackers knowing in advance what model they have to break into, giving them time to research strengths, weaknesses, and workarounds.
If your network name includes personally identifiable information (such as your first or last name), hackers can use that information to tie your Wi-Fi network to you. In a sea of wireless networks, you want yours to blend in anonymously. You can be creative – just not self-identifying.
Is your Wi-Fi encrypted?
Encryption protects your network by requiring a password to connect and encrypting data sent over the network. Without encryption, anyone can join your network, and hackers can easily see the transmitted data.
The current industry standard is Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (known as “WPA2”) encryption. Not only is it stronger, but it is also easier to configure than other encryption options. If your router is not encrypted or is encrypted with an older standard such as WEP or WPA, you should change it to WPA2. If WPA2 isn’t available for your router, it’s time to get a new one. Better than WPA2, WPA3 encryption is supported by some newer routers. If that’s an option on your router, consider choosing it over WPA2 if all of your devices support it. Not all devices on the market today support WPA3 encryption.
How strong is your Wi-Fi password?
The longer your password is, the more secure it is when it comes to brute force attacks, where a hacker uses code to try every possible password to guess the correct password. The shorter a password is, the faster a hacker could gain entry. You can also strengthen your password by using special characters like symbols or punctuation. If you use your Wi-Fi password for any other account, you should change your password.
Is your administrator password unique?
Routers come with a default password set by the manufacturer, and these passwords are published on the internet. Once a user has connected to your Wi-Fi, they can access your router’s configuration page using your router’s administrator password. So, it is important that you change your router’s default password by logging into the configuration page and setting it to a unique, strong password. Remember though that even if you changed the default password when you set up the router, you may need a new password if your password is used for multiple accounts or is weak.
Is your router firmware up to date?
If you have an older router, chances are that it doesn’t automatically install firmware updates. If you haven’t been installing updates yourself, your network could be vulnerable to attack. Put it on your task list to check for updates regularly or invest in a router that automatically installs firmware updates.
Do you have a firewall?
Firewalls filter out malicious data that may attempt to enter your device. Your router likely includes a simple firewall, but currently supported operating systems (like Windows 10 or 11, or MacOS) have a built-in firewall as well. Having both your router and operating system firewalls running creates a stronger defense against hackers.
Where is your router located?
If your router isn’t located in the center of your home, consider moving it to a more central location. You’ll have a better Wi-Fi signal throughout your home and also reduce the distance that the signal carries outside of your home. Some routers give you the ability to reduce the range by turning down the Transmit Power Control, which is particularly helpful if you live in an apartment.
Does your router permit remote access?
Remote access means anyone can access your configuration page if they hack your username and password. Turn off remote access from the configuration page while you are on your network.
Do you use a virtual private network (VPN)?
A VPN creates an encrypted tunnel to block anyone from intercepting your data. While you might think of VPNs as a way to protect your data on public Wi-Fi, using a VPN at home gives you an additional layer of security. Our home networks are more secure than public ones, but there is always the chance that someone is watching data coming and going on your network.