Updated March 1, 2022 . AmFam Team
Millions of households in the U.S. are connected to the internet. And almost 90 percent of them connect to their broadband via Wi-Fi networks. With so many routers installed across a multitude of homes, international hackers can easily access devices like laptops and home computers. They’re getting in by taking advantage of unchanged default network settings — at a very high personal cost for those affected.
Hackers access banking usernames and passwords, gather personally identifiable information and steal identities. Breeches like these can turn into major headaches.
But here’s the good news. You can help shield yourself from these attacks by learning how maximize your home wireless network security settings.
Because many internet providers are also including a router for their customers, hackers seek out routers that contain default, provider-named networks and base their hacking strategy on those default settings. By limiting the guesswork, and selecting networks with recognizable names, hackers can increase the odds of a successful attack. By making a few simple adjustments, they’re less likely to break in and steal your data.
If you’re not sure how to get these steps done, contact your internet service provider (ISP) and have them walk you through each of the adjustments outlined below. Let’s take a look at ways you can modify default settings on your router, and send hackers packing for easier targets.
Verify that your router will auto-update. Depending on the make and model, you may need to select a checkbox and verify that your router will execute software updates as they’re released by the manufacturer. These updates often increase security and repair hacking vulnerabilities in previous versions.
Change the name of your default network. Otherwise known as your SSID (service set identifier). By uniquely naming your router, it’s default name will be hidden from malicious attackers, making it more difficult for online hackers to guess the type of router you’ve got — or the one typically issued by your service provider. Keep the name non-descript and easy for you to remember. Include a combination of letters and numbers.
Install and update anti-virus software on all devices connected to the network. From tablets to phones to IoT-connected devices, be sure to pick up anti-virus software programs.
Set a unique network password. The default password that comes with your router is actually really easy for hackers to guess. By building a strong password and not using it for other online services, you’re seriously reducing the odds of identity theft. Customize your home wireless network settings and hackers may seek easier targets.
Modify your wireless router’s default IP address. Typically something like 192.168.0.1, this IP address is the standard for most wireless routers. Be sure you reach out to your ISP if you decide to change this setting, they’ll walk you through the process.
Change the default network administrator credentials. Modify the administrator’s password that comes standard with the router — do the same to the default username and your network is even harder to infiltrate.
Pay attention to and install software updates. When your laptop bothers you to stop what you’re doing and install an update, get that done ASAP. You’ll benefit by receiving security updates that protect against new or emerging hacking threats. Putting off those updates only leaves you exposed.
Take advantage of encryption technology that protects your data when in transit between end points within in your home. Take a look at these tips for bolstering the encryption capacity of your wireless systems.
Activate network encryption. Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) protocols encrypts data sent to and from your router. Better still, WPA3 is now becoming available in many markets. Contact your ISP and request an upgraded router with this tech to ratchet up your encryption.
WPA3 is also better for managing Internet of Things (IoT)-connected devices. So if you’ve got a remote, programmable thermostat or a wireless home security system, picking up a router with WPA3 on board may help your IoT-enabled items perform more consistently.
Pick up an encrypted personal VPN (virtual private network) service for your router. This option can really make a difference. For a small monthly fee, you can subscribe to a VPN service that anonymizes your true location. Services like StrongVPN and WiTopia both offer important IP address masking services for around $10 per month.
Upgrade your OS. By downloading and installing the latest operating systems for the devices connected to your network, you may benefit from advanced encryption and security measures. Often, this tech is not present on older operating system versions.
Avoid phishing. Managing email, working online and sending confidential information over the internet can be dangerous. Prevent spoofed phishing efforts from compromising your networks by only opening email attachments from known, trusted sources. Be wary of text messages from unknown senders. They’re likely requesting an immediate response, demanding you click a link embedded in the text.
In addition to adjusting your network settings, it’s important to pay attention to other ways hackers and identity thieves have infiltrated homes and stolen identities. Take a look at these ideas to help keep your home and your identity safe.
Shut down the wireless home network when away. Although this may not be advisable with IoT-connected devices, if you’re just using your network to access the internet when your home, it’s a good idea to unplug your router when away for long periods of time, and rule out hacker access.
Limit the spray of your network signal. Locating your router in the middle of your home can provide a consistent blanket of coverage across your home. Doing so can also help to prevent neighbors and nearby vehicles from accessing a strong network signal.
Install a wireless home security system. In addition to receiving a discount on your homeowners insurance premium, subscribing to a wireless security system can help to keep your home safe. A smart home security service does more than secure your perimeter. With IoT-connected sensors that alert first responders to emergencies, your home can be a much safer place.
Shred all sensitive documents. Since you can’t always control who has access to your trash, you’ll want to pick up a diamond cut or confetti shredder. Be sure to use it when disposing of all sensitive documents containing personally identifiable information.
Change your internet service to a more secure one. If your current ISP isn’t offering free anti-viral software products, you may be wise to consider other services that take your security more seriously.
Install a physical firewall. Although they’re available both physically and as a software product, both offer another layer of protection. Physical, wireless firewalls have built-in protection that’s designed to defend your network from cyber-attacks. Some router systems come with a built-in firewall — embedded into the router firmware.
Replace your router with a better one. Sometimes, even with your network’s software being completely up-to-date, certain router manufacturers are prone to security breaches and are more vulnerable than others.
Because securing your home’s Wi-Fi networks can have far-reaching implications, you should make your home’s network security a priority. With a little help, coaching or online research, you can build up your at-home network defenses and greatly reduce the likelihood being hacked.
While you’re reviewing your network security measures and making key adjustments, remember to get in touch with your American Family Insurance agent. Our identity theft protection coverage is an affordable way to protect against the high cost of restoring your finances and identity. Ask your agent for details, they’re always willing help you explore the coverage you that helps keep you and your family safe.
This article is for informational purposes only and includes information widely available through different sources.