Your home's Wi-Fi network is important – especially if you're a cord cutter. We cord cutters use the internet to stream live TV and on-demand shows and movies, so we need a fast and reliable internet connection. We also need a safe and secure home Wi-Fi network. In fact, it's not just cord cutters: everyone ought to be careful about how their Wi-Fi network is set up at home, because it doesn't take much to give an opening to the wrong sort of people. If your Wi-Fi network is vulnerable, then you could be at risk of letting personal and financial information fall into the wrong hands. That's why we're here to talk about how to secure home Wi-Fi networks like the one that you use to watch Netflix and Sling TV.
How to Secure Your Home Wi-Fi Network: Setting Up Your Router and Network
Let's start with the basics. First, here's a refresher on how all of this internet stuff works: your Internet Service Provider connects you to the internet with a physical cable that you connect to a modem, which encodes and decodes the information that you send over the internet. If you want to run a physical ethernet cable from your computer to your modem in order to use the internet, we can stop here. But, most likely, you also want to use wireless internet – not just on your computer, but on your mobile devices as well. For that, you have a router. Your router is the thing that gives you Wi-Fi, and you'll find it either connected to your modem with a cable or built into one device with the modem.
If you set up your Wi-Fi a long time ago, or if you let someone else set it up for you, you may not remember how to change settings on your router. No worries – we'll show you how.
Accessing Router Settings
You can access your router's settings on your computer. All you have to do is open a web browser and enter the IP address of your router in the address bar.
What is your router's IP address? Well, that depends. There's a very good chance that it's 192.168.1.1 (you can find out by trying that in your browser), but it's possible that your router is one of the ones that uses a different address. You can find out by opening up the console and typing ipconfig, which will display your router's IP address next to the words “Default Gateway.” You can also check your router itself – sometimes this information is printed on it somewhere.
Once you've directed your browser to the right address, you will most likely be prompted for a username and password. If you haven't created any yourself, check your router to see if the default login information is printed on it somewhere, or use a search engine to track down the information relevant to your make and model of router online.
What to Change in Your Router's Settings
Once you're in, you'll be able to change router settings. But what changes should you make in order to secure your home Wi-Fi network? Here are a few:
- Change the username and password for your router. If you're using the default administrator login information on your router, then anyone can log in and mess with your Wi-Fi network!
- Make sure your Wi-Fi network is password-protected. This is a no-brainer!
- Use WPA2 and create a strong password. WPA2 is more effective than older password protocols like WPA and WEP. Those older ones have been compromised by hackers, so steer clear of them.
- Change the network name. Leaving login information in its default form is never a good idea.
These are the basic things that absolutely everyone should be doing in order to protect their Wi-Fi networks. The next few things are a bit more advanced, but they're good ideas if you feel comfortable doing them.
- Change your router's IP address. If you tried that common 192.168.1.1 IP and found that you could access your router, then you should now realize how easy it would be for anyone on your network to do the same. Make a change – swap out that second-to-last digit.
- Set up a subnet mask. Setting your subnet mask to the common 255.255.255.0 will mask the network portion of your IP address while allowing room for lots of individual addresses on your network.
- Change your DNS settings. You can swap out your router's default DNS if you so desire. The DNS (short for “domain name system”) translates text into IP addresses in your search bar. You can swap your ISP's for free and open options like OpenDNS and Google Public DNS.
- Disable high-risk protocols. Some experts recommend disabling certain protocols being run by your router. Among the ones that could be exploited: SSH and UPnP, which should be blocked to incoming traffic. SNMP can be shut down, too.
- Hide your network. If you're serious about privacy, you can even turn off SSID broadcasting, which will keep your network's name from showing up when devices search for networks. You'll have to type the network name in manually to connect, instead. Just be ready to explain that to house guests!
Other Privacy Strategies: Use a VPN
We've written about VPNs before here, and that's because they're a very useful tool for cord cutters and for any internet user who is worried about their privacy.
To be clear, VPNs don't solve your home Wi-Fi security issues for you. You still need to be careful about protecting your router and your network. But a VPN can help anonymize your traffic, making it tougher for outside observers – including your own ISP – to tell that who you are and where you are when you send and receive information online. You're still going to want to be careful with the information you share, and you'll still need a secure network, but anonymity can be a big help when it comes to security online.
Just make sure that you choose one of the top VPN providers if you decide to go this route. Fortunately for you, we've written a little bit about how to make that decision!
Other Concerns: Hardware and Firmware
We've covered most of what you need to know about how to secure your home Wi-Fi network, but it's worth talking at least a little bit about one last possible vulnerability: your router itself.
See, routers – like everything else – can get old. And outdated routers with outdated firmware can be a bonanza for hackers. This doesn't mean that you have to go run out and buy the biggest, baddest router that you can find (though, if you do want to do that, we have some suggestions). But it does mean that you should make sure that your router receives frequent firmware updates. You should be able to sign up for emails in order to see how often that's actually happening. Reliable router manufacturers will push updates reasonably often, so if you have a good modern router, you don't have to worry too much about this.
And there you have it: everything you need to know about how to secure your home Wi-Fi network. Stay safe out there, folks!