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How to secure your WiFi router at home to ensure safe remote working

Moneycontrol logo Moneycontrol 05-07-2020 Carlsen Martin

The Indian government recently banned 59 Chinese applications amid escalating border tensions between India and China.

a person sitting at a table using a laptop computer: How to secure your WiFi router at home to ensure safe remote working © Pranav Hegde How to secure your WiFi router at home to ensure safe remote working

The IT Ministry said that it had received complaints from various sources, including reports of misuse on Android and iOS platforms, for stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users' data in an unauthorised manner to servers located outside India.

While the government is yet to elaborate on these allegations, it has got us thinking about the security of what is arguably one of the quintessential tools for people working remotely across India — the 'router'.

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People working remotely can no longer bank on their company's 'IT department' to provide a secure network; that job has defaulted to the 'router'.

Why is the router so important?

The router checks incoming and outgoing traffic, acting as a gatekeeper to ensure nothing dangerous enters or nothing sensitive exits. It controls access to your WiFi network, and through it, all the devices hooked up to your network, including your tablet, phones, laptops, desktops and more. So if someone were to gain access to your network, it would not take long for that individual to get access to the devices connected to your network and compromise them.

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Can you secure your WiFi Router?

Yes. There are a few simple steps that any layperson can take to significantly reduce the risk of a router being breached. These steps are relatively easy and will require users to access the router's settings, which can typically be done through a web browser or an app on your phone (if your router supports it). You can check the documentation that comes with the router to figure out how to find these settings.

How to access Router Settings on Web Browser?

Settings > Network and Internet > View your Network Properties > DNS Servers > Copy the IP address in Web Browser. By default, the username is left blank, and password is 'admin', or both username and password are set to 'admin'. Now, let us move on to the steps to make your router a little more secure.

Change BOTH your WiFi passwords!

Setting up a strong and unique password that is not easy to guess is key to keeping your router more secure. Firstly, every WiFi router has two passwords, one to access the settings (Router Admin Control) and the other being the WPA access password.

You should use WPA2 security to guard access to your router, which will require every new device to submit a password before connecting to your network. A WPA2 network provides unique encryption keys for each wireless client that connects to it.

We recommend changing your router password more frequently to ensure no one is lurking on your network using an old password. The second password you should change is the one used to access the router settings as most users often leave it to the default password, which is usually 'admin'. Once you open 'router settings', changing these passwords can be relatively simple.

You can speak to your internet service provider to change for instructions to change these passwords over the phone or visit the router manufacturer's website to change the Admin Console password. Ensure the password you set up is not easy to guess or brute force.

Don’t tell anyone your name, your ‘Network Name’ that is

You can hide the SSID of your main network, which is essentially the name of your network that shows up when devices scan for WiFi access. This will not allow visitors to see your network, and no one will be able to connect to your network if they cannot see it. You are the only person who will know the name of your network as it will be available in your router settings.

Most routers have the option to broadcast a guest network. A guess network can be set up to give guests access to your WiFi connection without giving them access to the rest of your network. So even if someone is trying to access your network without permission, they will only get on the guest network, ensuring all the other devices on your network will not be breached.

Old is not gold! Always keep your firmware up to date

It is very important to keep your router software or firmware up to date as it essentially controls everything a router does.

Newer routers usually get automatic firmware updates that run in the background. If your router does not support automatic firmware updates, you can easily check the bundled documentation or head to the official support website to figure out how to manually update your router within the router control panel.

Keeping your router firmware up to date, ensures you have the latest bug fixes and security patches while protecting it against newly discovered exploits.

There’s more

If you do not need admin-level access to your router outside your house, you can safely turn off remote access features from the router settings as most remote access apps work fine without these features turned on. Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) is designed to make it easier for devices like smart TVs and gaming consoles to access the internet without having to adjust a lot of configuration screens.

However, UPnP can also be used by malware to get access to your router's security settings. While keeping UPnP turned on will not expose you to malicious programs, we would recommend turning it off as it is not difficult to enable the features again if apps or devices on your network rely on them. You should also consider disabling WPS or WiFi Protected Setup as it is easier to brute force a numerical PIN than an alphanumerical password.

Other tips you can use to ensure your router is secured is getting strong anti-virus protection. Additionally, you should avoid using routers supplied by your internet service provider. When accessing your router settings on the web, we also suggest using incognito or private mode. While these steps won't guarantee your router is secured, they are just about the best steps you can take to keep your home network secured. They are meant to make it significantly harder for people to fraudulently access your router.

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