You know enough about cyber security to equip your computers and smartphones with antivirus programs — or you should. These tools ensure that any activity you engage in won’t result in malware installed on your device, and you know that malware is always bad news.
However, while antivirus solutions are essential to home cybersecurity, they aren’t your only line of defense. In fact, by only thinking about your endpoints — your computer and phone — you are leaving your network vulnerable to attack in a variety of ways.
It’s not just businesses that need to worry about network security. Because your home is filled with connected devices, such as smart tech that doesn’t utilize antivirus software, you need to learn tips and tricks for keeping your network safe. Here’s a guide to get you started.
Change Your Network’s Name
If your network’s name is something like Netgear81-5g, it’s imperative that you change that name immediately. The problem with using the default network name that comes with your router is that router manufacturers themselves publish lists of router names and passwords. This is supposed to help you, in case you get locked out of your wi-fi — but in reality, it helps hackers identify makes and models of routers, so they can more easily hack in. Plus, if you haven’t changed your network name, you probably haven’t changed the password either, making accessing your network a cinch.
Your router’s manual will tell you how to change the network name, but you can also follow these steps:
- Enter your router’s IP address (located on the router) into your browser.
- Log in using the administrator username and password.
- Find a setting for Wi-Fi Name or SSID.
- Enter your new name.
Consider naming your network something fun and memorable, so you won’t forget which network is yours. Some good options are: “LAN Solo” or “Jar Jar Linksys” or “Not the Wi-Fi you’re looking for.”
Build a Better Network Password
The password used to log onto your network shouldn’t be easy to guess or find online. Thus, it shouldn’t make use of any obvious information about you, like your name, birthday, kids’ or pets’ names or anything you post about on social media. According to security experts, the best passwords are 12 or more randomized characters, like this: SW5dmt>$biwmFAV!. Unfortunately, passwords like these are almost impossible to memorize — unless you create a mnemonic for it. You should try to create a sentence that results in a random-seeming string of characters, like this for the jumble above: “Star Wars V didn’t make the most money, but it was my FAV!”
Understand Network Encryption
Encryption is the process of turning regular, intelligible text into indecipherable gobbledygook to ensure that prying eyes don’t read secrets they shouldn’t have access to. Your network should always be encrypted — if it isn’t, hackers don’t need to find a way into your devices to access your data; they can just see the data flying by and take it whenever they please. Fortunately, most routers come equipped with the option for encryption. In the same settings you used to change the network name, you should look for encryption options and enable the highest number, i.e. WPA2 or WPA3.
Update Your Network Software Often
Believe it or not, your router uses software — or, more accurately, firmware — which needs to be updated regularly. Like any other kind of software (or firmware), the program on your router can get old and full of holes, making it more vulnerable to a variety of hacking attacks. While some high-end routers update their firmware automatically (after you tell it to in settings), older and less-expensive routers require manual updating. You should set a reminder on your phone or computer to update your router every three months or so. You enable the update through the same router setting menu as network naming and encryption.
By no means are these the only ways to keep your home network safe — but you shouldn’t move onto intermediate or advanced measures until you’ve mastered the basics. A couple other simple tips include relocating your router, so passersby on the street can’t see your network, and turning your router off when you aren’t home to use it. Finally, you should strive to stay aware of network security news, so you know what threats are out there and can adequately act against them.