Secure your home Wi-Fi network now to ward off hackers and freeloaders

This story is part Tips for the houseCNET’s collection of handy tips for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.

The average American home now has more than 10 devices connected at home Wi-Fi network. Of laptop and from tablets to phones, smart watches and streaming devices, things add up quickly. And with so much data stored on these devices — credit card numbers, bank statements, login credentials and other personal and private information – you want to make sure you’re protecting yourself against hackers if your network is ever compromised.

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Home network hacking happens too frequently. Internet crime cost people over $6.9 billion in 2021and while phishing and scams contributed to the losses, personal data breaches were also an important factor. A secure home network will help reduce the risk of being hacked and someone gaining access to your sensitive information. Plus, it will keep away any unwanted or unauthorized users and devices that slow down your connection or download the internet service you pay for for free.

It’s quite simple to create and maintain a secure home Wi-Fi network. Below, you will find 10 tips for securing your network. Some are more effective than others in keeping hackers and profiteers away, but all are useful in their own way. Keep in mind that nothing can guarantee absolute security against hacking attempts, but these tips will certainly make it harder for anyone to compromise your network and data.

Read more: Best Internet Service Providers of 2022

How to secure your home Wi-Fi network

Here are the basics for protecting your home Wi-Fi network. Keep reading for more information on each below.

1. Place your router in a central location.

2. Create a strong Wi-Fi password and change it often.

3. Change the router’s default login credentials.

4. Enable firewall and Wi-Fi encryption.

5. Create a guest network.

6. Use a VPN.

seven. Keep your router and devices up to date.

8. Disable remote router access.

9. Check connected devices.

ten. Switch to a WPA3 router.

Place your router in a central location

Strong network security starts with smart configuration. If possible, place your router in the center of your home. Routers send wireless signals in all directions, so strategically placing your router in a central location will help you maintain your connection within the confines of your home. As a bonus, this will probably also do for the better connection quality.

For example, if you have Internet in an apartment where neighbors are immediately to the left and right of you, placing your router next to a shared wall could send a strong and tempting signal in their direction. Even if you are not in an apartment, a good router can throw signals beside or across the street. Placing your router in a central location will help reduce the distance these signals travel outside your home.

Create a strong Wi-Fi password and change it often

This should goes without saying, but I’ll cover it again to emphasize its importance. Creating a unique password for your Wi-Fi network is essential to maintaining a secure connection. Avoid easy-to-guess passwords or phrases, such as someone’s name, date of birth, phone number, or other common information. Although simple Wi-Fi passwords make them easy to remember, they also make it easy for others to understand. (Here is how to access your router settings to update your Wi-Fi password.)

Be sure to change your password every six months or so, or whenever you suspect your network security has been compromised.

bottom of a router

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Change Default Router Login Credentials

In the same spirit of password protecting your Wi-Fi network, you’ll also want to prevent anyone from directly accessing your router settings. To do this, go ahead and change your router’s admin name and password. You can log into your router’s settings by typing its IP address in the URL bar, but most routers and providers have an app that lets you access the same settings and information.

Your router’s login credentials are separate from your Wi-Fi network name and password. If you’re not sure what the default is, you should be able to find it under the router. Or, if the default was changed somewhere along the way, again, here’s how to access your router settings to update username and password.

Enable firewall and Wi-Fi encryption

Most routers have a firewall to prevent outside hacking, as well as Wi-Fi encryption to prevent anyone from eavesdropping on data exchanged between your router and connected devices. Both are usually active by default, but you’ll want to check that they’re enabled.

Now that you know how to connect to your router settings, check that the firewall and Wi-Fi encryption are enabled. If they are off for some reason, go ahead and turn them on. Your network security will thank you.

Create a guest Wi-Fi network

“Can I get the Wi-Fi password?” is definitely something all hosts have heard. Before sharing access to your primary home network, consider creating a separate guest network for visitors. I’m not saying that your guests are going to try anything nefarious with your primary Wi-Fi connection, but their devices or anything they download while connected to your network could be infected with malware or viruses that target your network without them even knowing it.

A guest network is also ideal for your IoT devices, such as Wifi cameras, thermostats and smart speakers – devices that may not contain a lot of sensitive information and may be more easily hacked than a smarter device like a computer or phone.

phone with VPN letters and Wi Fi logo on screen

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Use a VPN

There are several reasons to use a good vpn, and network security is certainly one of them. Among other things, a virtual private network hides your IP address and Wi-Fi activity, including browsing data.

VPNs are probably most useful when connected to a public network, but they can still add a level of security and privacy to your home network. Some VPNs are better than others, but as with everything, you often get what you pay for. Free VPN services are available, but paying a little more (seriously, just a few bucks a month) will deliver a much better, more secure service.

Keep your router and devices up to date

Software updates always seem to pop up when you need to log in the most. Although they can be annoying, they serve a purpose and often include security updates. When companies become aware of potential or exposed security vulnerabilities, they release updates and patches to minimize or eliminate the risk. You want to download them.

Keeping your router and connected devices up to date with the latest updates will help ensure you have the best protection against known malware and hacking attempts. Configure your router to update automatically in the administrative settings, if possible, and periodically check that your router is up to date.

Disable remote router access

Remote router access allows anyone not directly connected to your Wi-Fi network to access the router settings. Unless it’s necessary to access your router while away from home, to check or change the configuration of a child’s connected device, for example, there should be no reason to enable remote access.

You can disable remote access in the router administration settings. Unlike other security measures, remote router access disabled may not be the default.

Check connected devices

Frequently inspect the devices connected to your network and verify that you know what they are. If anything looks suspicious, disconnect it and change your Wi-Fi password. You will need to reconnect all of your previously connected devices after changing your password, but any users or devices that are not authorized to use your network will get the boot.

Some devices, especially obscure IoT ones, may have weird default names of random numbers and letters that you don’t immediately recognize. If you come across something like this while reviewing your connected devices, go ahead and disconnect it. Later, when you cannot start your breathing machine from your phone you will know it was what it was.

Upgrade to a WPA3 Router

WPA3 is the latest security protocol for routers. All new routers should have WPA3, so if you’re buying a new router, you shouldn’t worry. However, many people rent their routers directly from the vendor, which may not include the latest equipment.

If your router was manufactured before 2018, you may have a WPA2 device, which does not have the same level of security protocols as newer WPA3 devices. A quick search for your device model should tell you when it was released and any specific features such as whether it has WPA2 or WPA3. If you have a router with WPA2, call your supplier and negotiate for a better newer router.

Network security is not a guarantee

Again, even with the latest and most effective methods of protecting your home network, security will never be 100% certain. As long as there is the Internet, hackers and cybercriminals will find ways to exploit it. But with the tips above, we hope you can better protect your network from anyone trying to use your connection or access your data.

To find out more, see how to know if your internet service provider is limiting your wifi and our tips to speed up your Wi-Fi connection.

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