How To Protect Your Home Network From Cyber Criminals

Jacqui Coombe
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Gone are the days where your home Internet would be a single modem connected to a single computer via wires. These days almost everyone has a home network – a modem/router in the corner, beaming out a Wi-Fi signal that everything, from the television to the game consoles, security systems and even kitchen sink are connected to.

We can no longer go without that kind of connectivity and networking. When we move home, one of our major priorities is limiting the downtime before the Internet connection can be moved over with us. We rely on that home network to work from home, stay entertained, and remain connected to the world. Even a day without it can cause anxiety.

For these reasons, the unfortunate downside is that the home network has become the favourite target of many cyber criminals. Worse, consumer-grade technology lacks the enterprise protections of equipment in offices, so it can be easier for them to get access. That’s why Internet crime in the US alone cost consumers $6.9 billion in the last year alone.

However, there are some things that you can do to strengthen the security of your network and make it difficult to break into:

1) Encrypt your network. Head into your router settings (you should have instructions on how to do so with the documentation that came with the router), and turn on either WPA3 Personal or WPA2 Personal encryption (depending on the type of router you have). This encrypts the data that the router handles (i.e. all of it), and while it might mean that a rare few applications don’t work or need some specialised tweaking, for the most part you won’t see any difference to your user experience, but you’ll be far more secure while online. If your router doesn’t have WPA3 or WPA2 options (you’ll probably see “WPA” or “WEP” and that’s it), then the router is outdated, and no longer secure. You might want to consider getting a new model of router in that case.

2) Set up a guest network. Many routers have the option of setting up a separate, guest network, which would allow you to browse the Internet, but would prevent a device connected on the guest network from interacting with anything else in the environment. This is useful because when you do have guests over you want them to be able to enjoy the Internet, but at the same time, if they have malware or other nasties on their devices, being connected to the “guest” rather than main network will prevent them from spreading the malware to your own devices.

3) Make use of firewalls! Firewalls are enormously useful things. They’re security software that “blocks” incoming sources of data and communications that you don’t explicitly allow. A firewall means that a piece of malware can be flagged and prevented from being installed before it becomes a problem. A firewall applied at the router level will stop malicious code getting into any part of the home network.

4) Be strategic about where you put the router. If you put your router in the middle of the home, then the distance that the Wi-Fi signal will travel outside of the home will be greatly limited. If you put the router near the front door, facing the street, then there is every chance that someone parked on the curb side will be able to receive a strong signal.

5) Make good use of passwords. One of the first things you should do when setting up your router is change two sets of passwords: the password of the Wi-Fi signal itself (the password that you use to access the Internet with your devices), and the password for access to the router. By default, many routers have a password of “admin” and so, if a cyber criminal knows what router you’re using (or can guess at the IP address of the device, and there aren’t many of those in use), they can get instant access to your device. Use best practice with passwords – use a strong combination of letters, symbols and numbers, and make sure that the password isn’t related to identifiable data (in other words, don’t use birthdays or pet names).

Finally, make sure that you keep an eye on the router! So often people set the router up and forget about it, only to wonder why their entire Internet slows to a crawl and viruses start popping up on their devices. At the very least you should make sure that your router is regularly updated with the latest firmware, and that you frequently change your passwords, in accordance with best practices.

And check the list of connected devices! One sure-fire sign that your network is not secure is that you see devices that are not familiar to you on it. Often people are not overly malicious about this – they’re not looking to infect your devices with malware, they just want to leech some of your bandwidth off you – but if you’ve got random people from outside being able to connect to your network, it’s only a matter of time before a hacker notices the vulnerability. Boot the unknown devices immediately and set about changing all the passwords that you need to.

With a small amount of vigilance like that you’ll be able to protect your home network from any but the most dedicated of attacks.

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Jacqui Coombe has been a prolific reader since childhood, and now channels her love of the written word into writing content on a range of topics from business, marketing and finance to travel and lifestyle.

Santa Monica, CA

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