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Network Security for Dummies: Guarding Your Home Network

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A wireless home network is one of the most convenient of modern conveniences. Having Wi-Fi at home so we can connect our smartphones, tablets, laptops, and even refrigerators to the Internet makes our lives easier. But it is also a security risk. Hackers are just waiting to crack open your network and uncover your secrets or worse — take over your home wireless network and kick you off of it.

Home network security is essential. You don’t have to be tech-savvy to guard your home network, all it takes are some simple steps.

Here are 12 tips to help you secure your home network.

1. Passwords

Good cybersecurity always starts with strong passwords. Your home network is no exception. What should you do with your password to better secure your home network?

  • Change the router’s default password. Manufacturers ship routers with the same Wi-Fi passwords. This can make them easy to crack. The first thing you should do when setting up your home network is change the default Wi-Fi password. Also make the password long and complicated — usually a series of at least 16 random letters, numbers, and punctuation marks will do it. It might be a hassle to type it in, but that’s the point.
  • Don’t give your password out to everyone. You might read that and think “Duh.” However, after you’ve given out your password to house guests, your book club, and the babysitter, you’d be surprised just how many devices are accessing your network. Be cautious about who you give Wi-Fi access to in your home. Plumbers, traveling sales reps, gardeners, or anyone at your home to do a service that doesn’t involve repairing the wireless network should not have access to your wireless network.
  • Change your password often. Once someone has accessed your home’s wireless network once, their device will recognize the network and automatically connect again, every time they come to your house. Your son’s annoying friends will be able to use your Wi-Fi every time they come over without even having to ask you. Frequently changing your password gives you a little more control over who’s connecting to your network.

2. Change the router’s default network name (SSID)

Your router will give a default name to your wireless network, known as an SSID. Manufacturers and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) may use the name of the company that made the router and even the model number. Hackers can easily look up the default credentials for your router name and use it to break into your network. When you change your SSID, make it something neutral that doesn’t contain personal information (don’t use a phone number or address in your SSID).

3. Hide your network

Did you know you can block your router from sending out its signal? Hiding your network makes your guests less likely to ask for the Wi-Fi password. While you’re at it, disable remote access to your router if it has the capability.

4. Enable WPA2 protection

WPA2 is a type of Wi-Fi encryption, and currently the strongest available for home networks. It uses long sequences of hexadecimal numbers that must be matched to gain access to the Wi-Fi router. You can enable WPA2 in your router settings.

5. Add a guest network

Some routers let you set up a guest network at home, which has its own SSID and password. Your house guests can go online via this network rather than yours, and won’t be able to access any files or data on your main network.

6. Turn off Universal Plug ‘n Play

Universal Plug ‘n Play or UPnP allows devices to connect to your home Wi-Fi network so they can communicate with their manufacturers for firmware updates. Smart devices like your thermostat, refrigerator or virtual assistant use UPnP. Given that most of these smart gadgets aren’t password protected or that the manufacturer uses the same default password for all of their devices, keeping UPnP on is a security vulnerability. Once you have your new smart device set up, turn off UPnP.

7. Install the latest firmware updates

Firmware updates should happen automatically with your router, but you should also check the manufacturer’s website for new releases as well. Your router console should allow you to check which firmware version you’re currently running.

8. Use a VPN

A VPN encrypts your data and hides your IP address, so it looks like you’re using an Internet connection from a location other than your home. Using a VPN is one of the most straightforward ways to hide your Internet activity from hackers and keep your IP address secret.

Read our reviews of popular VPNs to see which one would be best for you.

9. Enable your router’s firewall

Some wireless routers have built-in firewalls. You can check if yours has a firewall by logging into the router’s administrative console. Type the router’s IP address into a web browser and once it redirects you, look for a page labeled Security or Firewall. If you see this page, then your router most likely has a built-in firewall. Make sure it’s turned on.

10. Filter MAC addresses

Your router has a function that allows it to filter MAC addresses. Each device that connects to your home network has a MAC address and you can set your router to only allow certain MAC addresses to connect. Be aware that hackers can still sidestep MAC address filtering, so it doesn’t offer you full protection. It’s a suitable method if you want to prevent your neighbors from stealing your Wi-Fi, however.

11. Turn off your wireless network when you’re not home

It’s simple — the less time your router is on, the less likely you are to get hacked. Switching your network back on every time you come home isn’t that much of a hassle, either. It’s as easy as flipping your lights back on.

12. Keep the devices using your home network secure

If the smartphones, laptops, tablets, and other devices connected to your home network aren’t secure, it puts your entire home network at risk. Any device that you take outside your home and use with a public Internet connection has the potential to be infected if you’re not careful. Practice good public Wi-Fi safety to keep your devices and home network secured.

Home network security isn’t so complicated. Taking a few steps and extra minutes each month to secure your router, devices, and Wi-Fi network is worth it if it keeps you protected.

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