How to secure a Wi-Fi router: 6 easy steps

Andrew Showstead

April 02, 2024

  • # Identity Protection
  • # Account Protection
  • # Fraud Prevention

Once you set up your Wi-Fi router, you might think you’re good to go. But your default settings are weaker than you think.

Given the amount of personal and financial data you transmit on your Wi-Fi networks, it’s wise to put some extra security steps in place. An authorized party could gain access to sensitive information or your device itself, leaving you vulnerable to phishing, hacking, and malware. 

Here’s everything you need to know about the risks affecting wireless connections and how to secure a Wi-Fi network for safer use. 

What is Wi-Fi, and how does it work?

Wi-Fi — which stands for wireless fidelity — is a technology that uses radio waves to send and receive data. This is what lets you connect a device to a wireless network and use the internet. Wi-Fi moves data at a high speed, making it possible to send instantaneous emails, stream video content, and complete purchases quickly. 

What is Wi-Fi protection, and why is it important?

Wi-Fi is fast and convenient, but because it moves over radio waves instead of a cable, it isn’t always secure. Most networks have safety features that protect the data moved on a cable or these waves — like data encryption — but if a wireless network is public or easily accessible, hackers could use it to access your device. 

Protecting your Wi-Fi network with a strong password and firewall makes it difficult for unauthorized third parties to access the connection, and more importantly, the information you transmit through them. While there’s no such thing as a 100% secure connection, putting the right measures in place can drastically strengthen your security.

5 common Wi-Fi network security threats

Wi-Fi can be hacked or accessed by unauthorized third parties. Some are malicious actors tapping into the system to steal personal data, while others are looking for a free (and ill-advised) way to get online. Either way, you don’t want them on your network.

Here are a few potential threats that Wi-Fi networks pose:

1. Open doors 

You probably tried to connect to an open Wi-Fi network last time you were in an airport or cafe. While open networks are a convenient and free way to get online, they make you and your device vulnerable to criminal activity.

A wireless network that’s not password protected, or has easy-to-guess login credentials, can be an open door for a hacker. Once they access the network, they have ways to access any devices connected to it — opening the door to theft. That means if your home network doesn’t have a password, or it has a weak login system, hackers can get in easily.

2. Man-in-the-middle attacks

Hackers don’t only look for open doors. They know how to force them open. Cyber criminals leverage security vulnerabilities to eavesdrop on data transfers in a process known as a man-in-the-middle attack. When you connect to a website on a vulnerable network, a hacker can place themselves in between you and the website’s server to receive and abuse the information you send. This can include everything from private conversations to banking data.

3. Evil twin attacks

Think back to that Wi-Fi network you connected to in a public place. You might have seen an open network with the same name — also known as an evil twin. These networks look like real connection points, but are actually traps to steal your sensitive data when you link your device.

4. Malware attacks

Once a cyber criminal finds a vulnerability in your network, they can use it to install malware — software that steals or alters your data — on your device without your knowledge. This means you can unwittingly hand over login credentials, identifying information, or banking data to someone who’s put software on your device. That person can use your information to steal funds and even impersonate you through identity theft. 

5. Taking you offline

If you or your business relies on an internet connection, the last thing you want is for it to go offline. Hackers know this, so they sometimes threaten to launch attacks that prevent you from getting online in exchange for a bribe. These attacks, known as denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, flood your wireless network with requests, ultimately crashing it until you pay up.

How to secure a Wi-Fi router at home in 6 easy steps

Cyber criminals know how to find and infiltrate network vulnerabilities to steal sensitive information — but when you learn how to block Wi-Fi hackers from your home network, you can stop them. After all, home is where you probably do the bulk of your online shopping, personal emailing, and video calling, and that’s a lot of private data. 

Here’s how to stay safer when using your at-home connection:

1. Change your service set identifier (SSID) 

An SSID is a network name, which your internet service provider (ISP) usually sets for you when it installs your router. This name may include the ISP’s company name — a clue hackers can use to break into your network. For example, a cyber criminal might use the company or device name to figure out your router password, meaning they could easily access your at-home network.

Changing your default SSID can protect you from this vulnerability. Select a name that contains no identifying elements, like your name or address, that a hacker could intuit. Avoid anything like “John’s House” or “123 Green Avenue.” You can have fun with your network name as long as you don’t give away data.

2. Change your Wi-Fi password (and make it strong) 

Change the default Wi-Fi password on your at-home router — even if that password looks too complex to possibly break. Since there are nefarious websites that share default router passwords, a cyber criminal can look yours up if they know what device you have. 

Create a strong password by using a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, symbols, and numbers, and never use identifying information like parts of your name, birth date, or address. Changing this password regularly, and especially after you suspect foul play on your network, is also a good habit.

3. Use encrypted networks 

Encryption is one of the primary security features on most Wi-Fi networks. The WPA line of Wi-Fi network security protocols — like WPA2 and WPA3 — are standard on most contemporary devices, and they use encryption to make data illegible as it moves over a connection.

While your wireless router likely has WPA safety features, they may not automatically be turned on. Ask the ISP that installs your secure router to help you activate this protocol, and while you’re at it, inquire about any extra security options it offers.  

4. Disable network name visibility

Don’t let strangers see your home network name, even if you’ve already changed it to something unique. This ID is an essential piece in the puzzle for a hacker trying to guess login credentials and access your network. The best way to protect them from seeing it is to hide it completely.

Contact your ISP and ask how to turn off network name broadcasting on your device. Unlike hotels or airports that willingly share this ID with visitors so they can connect, your home doesn’t need to relay this information openly. Just keep in mind that if you or someone you know wants to connect, they’ll have to manually type the SSID into their computer instead of looking for it on the list of networks.

5. Get a firewall (and maybe a VPN)

Firewalls are security tools that monitor your network for malicious traffic and block cyber threats like malware. Check your wireless router and turn on the firewall feature if it isn’t already, and take the time to install firewalls on your devices, like your phone and computer.

You might also consider getting a virtual private network (VPN). Though they aren’t 100% secure, VPN services offer an added layer of protection between your device and networks. VPNs also mask your real IP address so that hackers can’t see this information and find your device’s location. 

6. Keep software and firmware up to date

Digital security features are constantly improving. Make sure you’re running the latest versions of any software and firmware — which is the software inherent to a device's hardware — at all times. As for your router, ask your ISP whether the firmware automatically updates. If it doesn’t, routinely check the manufacturer’s website for firmware updates to install. That way, you’re as secure as possible against evolving threats.

Protect your network and your data with IronVest

Securing your Wi-Fi connection should keep hackers from “eavesdropping” on your data, installing malicious software on your device, or trapping you into handing over sensitive information. But you can’t predict and protect yourself from every network vulnerability.

However, you can secure your personal information so that even if a bad actor gains network access, they won’t be able to get far. Use IronVest to mask your actual data with virtual credit card numbers and temporary email addresses and phone numbers. You can also implement biometric authentication so only you can unlock these private spaces. Try it today for a safer tomorrow.

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