Wi-Fi routers are the devices used to transmit wireless internet signals through your home. However, they can pose a danger to families as many have weaknesses which criminals can use to steal information from your home.
Shockingly, most of the top 25 Wi-Fi routers on the market have weak points which ‘let hackers in’ (based on the top-selling models on Amazon) - and these vulnerabilities are known. Descriptions of how to hack router models circulate on Russian hacker sites with many hack methods allowing remote (far away) hacking so the criminals can steal banking information and other details from without even having to be close.
PCs and Macs are protected heavily by their operating systems, but many routers are not. One gang was found controlling a network of 300,000 routers worldwide. Anything you do online passes through your router and criminals may be able to see it.
One of the major problems is that routers are not something we often update, or even tinker with, unless something goes wrong. A few simple steps can ensure that yours is safe and criminals are locked out.
Check to see if your router is leaky
Over the past year, security researchers have found “backdoors” in numerous router models including major brands such as D-Link - often put there by engineers to allow them to fix problems remotely. In the wrong hands, though, this can hand a criminal control over a router and access to your information. If you think you might be affected, either update your firmware (below), or buy a new router.
Change your password right now
Most routers have passwords set automatically - for instance, “admin” for the user and “password”. Never mind gangsters, if you leave these on your router, your neighbours may be able to use your network for free. These default passwords are widely known to hackers and can be accessed via a web page, so attackers don’t need to be near your home.
Bring yours up to date
Gadgets such as Windows PCS update themselves, which can lead people to expect routers to do the same. They don’t. Updating yours can be fiddly, and is not a ‘silver bullet’ for all problems, but it is worth doing. Firmware is the code and data which allows routers to function (much like Windows) but it does not update itself.
Find the router’s model number (usually printed on the device), visit the website for your router manufacturer and check if there is a newer version. Download it. Connect your router to your PC (via a standard Ethernet cable, available in any electrical store). The website should tell you a web address for your router’s ‘control panel’. Visit this, and follow the instructions.
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Time to spring clean
Routers are reliable devices so we rarely change them. But technology HAS moved on and one setting in particular can basically leave your router unprotected: the encryption. If you are using WEP (which older games consoles such as Nintendo DS insisted on) anyone can crack your network. Go to your router’s admin page (on the manufacturer’s site) and change to WPA .
Some very old routers may only offer WEP encryption. If yours does, throw it away and buy a new one. Even unskilled hackers can crack WEP and it’s prohibited for use in credit card systems in some countries, due to its security concerns.
Network names can be dangerous
Most routers will have a network name such as “NetGear” or “Virgin”. This seems innocent, but can give away information about the device you use. For most families, it’s not a risk, but if you run a business, it could help a rival gain access to your PCs. When broadband companies fail to hook up homes, people are sometimes tempted to take a “free ride” on yours, too. Don’t give them the chance.
Keep intruders out
Every computing device from an iPad to a PC has a MAC address - an identifying number. Routers allow you to specify which ones can connect to your network, and which can’t. So even if your password is “password” intruders won’t get in. This can be a useful tool with teenagers too as it allows you to prevent them or their friends using a “secret” mobile. It also means a visitor could not access unsuitable sites in your home.
Check your router hasn’t reset
If you do update your router, have a check through its settings. The gizmos have a habit of returning to their original settings when updated. Make sure, for instance, that the username is not “admin” and the password “password” once again, or that the network’s name has not gone back to the original. If they have, sigh, and redo the process.
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Hide your network from the neighbours
If you’re really worried about your privacy, the best way to ensure nobody spies on you is to hide your network’s name (known as an SSID). This means that nearby computers won’t see it on a list. If you want to connect a gadget, type in the network’s name and you can connect as normal. Don’t forget it - you’ll need the name to connect.
Don’t leave your Wi-Fi on when you go out
Using Wi-Fi rather than the phone network helps save money at home. But leaving Wi-Fi on while out and about isn’t a good idea. Hackers have been known to create networks with names similar to router default ones (“Virgin” for example) and your phone will automatically connect to any network with the same name. The hacker can then steal information from your phone.
This allows hackers to steal information. The head of Europol’s cybercrime division Troels Oerting said, “Everything that you send through Wi-Fi is potentially at risk, and this is something that we need to be very concerned about both as individual users but also as police. We should teach users that they should not access sensitive information while on an open, and insecure Wi-Fi internet connection.”