A fast and stable home internet connection is often the most prized of all our home conveniences. And given how many different aspects of our lives the internet has touched and changed – from work to entertainment to social interaction – we could even say that good WiFi is right up there with other needed utilities such as water and electricity.
However, while internet speed and reliability are undoubtedly important, so is security. An unfortunate consequence of moving so much of our lives online is that there is more incentive than ever for crooks to target us in the cyber world.
Fortunately, though, if you take the right safety precautions at home, you can easily secure your WiFi network and keep the evils that are out there away.
Below we've outlined all the things you can and should be doing to make sure your home network is safe and secure.
Before we go into the many steps of securing your home WiFi network, we thought it would be good to highlight some cybercrime statistics in today's world.
The purpose of this is not to scare you but rather to widen your perspective about the threats that exist.
When many of us think of "cybercriminals," we think of computer whizzes in baseball hats and hoodies, working from dark rooms to steal our money and identity. In reality, cybercrime is any unlawful act committed while using the internet. It can range from straight-up identity theft, harassment and stalking, fraud, and even things as nasty as human trafficking and child pornography, to name a few. Cybercriminals can come in all shapes and sizes.
Thinking about cybercrime as an umbrella term for all the dangers that lurk on the web and in our connected lives helps create a more holistic approach to security that we think is much more effective at keeping you safe.
To drive home the severity of the situation, consider these stats:
These are just seven stats out of countless that tell us the same thing: cybercrime is real, and most people are not properly prepared against it.
To help make sure you're not exposed, follow these steps to secure your home WiFi.
The two pieces of equipment we're most concerned with are the router and the modem, but mainly the router, as this is how someone may be able to gain unwanted access to your home internet.
Older routers and modems are less secure because they contain out-of-date technology that may be easier to hack. One of the first things you should do is check to make sure you have the best equipment.
If either your modem or router is more than a few years old, it might be worth looking into replacing one or both. Newer features such as better encryption, more personalized controls, VPNs (more on these later), and improved performance capabilities make these more recent devices much more secure.
Of course, upgrading your equipment can be an expense. But before you get online or go to the nearest electronics store, consider contacting your internet service provider. Older equipment poses a threat to both the security and speed of their entire infrastructure, and it is often in their best interest to replace it for you, meaning they'll do it for free or next to nothing.
In many cases, there's a chance you're already paying to rent some equipment, so the least they can do is provide you with the most recent technology.
If this doesn't work, you may still want to look into upgrading. A decent new router shouldn't cost more than $100, and it will set you well on your path towards creating a secure home WiFi network.
In addition to making sure you have a good router and modem that can adequately protect you, you'll also want to make sure you're doing your part to keep your equipment secure, which means setting a strong WiFi password.
All routers and modems will come with standard names and passwords, but you're encouraged to change both. This is because these numbers are factory assigned. They often share a pattern with other devices – leaving the preset security controls increases your risk of a hacker getting a hold of your information.
Make your WiFi name something easy to remember but difficult to guess. You don't need to go crazy, but just don't set it as your address, phone number, birthday, or anything else someone might easily think of if they were trying to access your network.
This small step, which takes just minutes to do, has a tremendous impact on your network's overall security and puts you on a solid footing as you implement other measures to make you even safer. Check your router's user manual for more information on changing its name and password.
With your WiFi infrastructure secure, the next thing you're going to want to do is to make sure your devices are adequately protected. In this case, you have a few things you need to do:
It can be a bit of a pain to have to enter a code or password every time you want to access a device, but no matter how much of a nuisance it is, do not remove this security measure.
Passwords prevent prying eyes from accessing your personal devices, but they are also the first line of defense against hackers. In most cases, to make any changes or modifications on your device, a protected computer will require a password. Taking off the password features allows crooks to skip this step and provides them with almost instant access to your computer, phone, tablet, etc.
Of course, there are things you can do to minimize the annoyance. For example, you can change the settings on your device so that it doesn't ask for a password until you haven't used it for five or ten minutes. You can also use facial recognition or fingerprint technology; these are most definitely more secure and convenient, but they also come with an obvious privacy invasion.
If you're planning to stick with regular passwords, here's a quick reminder about what makes a good one:
Another thing you will want to do when securing your home WiFi is to ensure all the devices connected to it that need it are equipped with anti-virus software.
Of course, anti-virus software doesn't protect your network. Still, it does provide an extra layer of insulation between your sensitive personal data and those trying to steal it, which makes connecting the web on your network (and others) that much safer.
The benefit of anti-virus software is that it helps keep things such as malware, ransomware, and spyware off your device. It also helps you to become a safer internet user. Safe browsing recommendations (notifications that tell you when a site is not as secure as it should be), along with automated download verification, force you to think twice before proceeding on the web. This type of discipline is what's really going to keep you the safest while online.
Traditionally, PCs running Windows have been the primary targets of hackers due to the nature of their software and the risk/reward they provide (more popular devices such as PCs have more desired information, making them more of a target). This is changing with Mac computers seeing an uptick in attacks along with their rising popularity. Many hackers are now going after smartphones, too, as our lives move onto these devices.
If you want to be as secure as possible, you may want to consider protecting these devices as well.
One more measure you can take is to set up and use a virtual private network (VPN). These are effectively dummy networks that operate alongside your main one on the same connection. They work through encryption and allow you to connect to the web without anyone knowing your location or really anything about you (which is ideal).
They're simple to set up and run – many newer routers have them built right in – but we should note that the extra layer of security comes at the expense of network performance. Connections are often much slower when running through a VPN.
As a result, this measure isn't necessarily a requirement. Those who feel particularly exposed and vulnerable may want to consider it. It might be helpful to know how this technology works so that you can use it if you need it, but most of us don't need to constantly use a VPN to keep our WiFi networks safe, especially if we're implementing other measures.
Now that you've secured your router, modem, and personal devices, it's time to look at the individual accounts you have and use online. Securing them will seal off a key access point to your home internet, turning it into a sanctuary against cybercrime.
It's important to remember that when it comes to your online accounts that
a) You are the primary person responsible for your security, and
b) Each account must be secured with the same vigor, for losing one to hackers could lead to many more and even full-on identity theft.
Here's what you need to know about securing your accounts and preventing them from turning into tools hackers can use.
Are you sensing a theme? Well, you should be. Strong passwords are the number one thing you can do to keep yourself safe from cybercrime.
In addition to what we've already said about passwords, it's important to remember that you should use different account names and passwords for each account, and change them with some degree of frequency.
This can be a pretty big pain, so consider using a password manager such as Last Pass to help you organize and simplify your approach to personal online security.
Prevention and protection are part of fighting cybercrime, but so is damage control, and doing this successfully means reacting quickly to a perceived threat so that it doesn't spiral.
Luckily, most of the accounts you have that contain secure, private information (banks, schools, emails, etc.) should have some sort of a system in place that notifies you when something happens with your account that gives cause for concern, such as a sign-in from an unknown location or repeated failed logins.
Make sure you've opted in to these notification systems as they are a straightforward and effective way to identify potential danger.
Another thing you should do is enable two-factor authentication to the accounts that offer you the chance to do so. Setting this up means that every time you log in, you will be asked to confirm your identity in some other way, either by entering a code or clicking a link sent to your phone or email.
This does add a few seconds to the login process, but it is so much more secure. Plus, it serves as an additional warning system against hacks – if you receive an alert about logging into an account you're not trying to access, it's clear you're under attack and need to act quickly to prevent further damage.
Until now, we've been talking about the specific things you can do to secure your equipment and accounts, which are tangible defenses against cybercrime. But to truly develop a thick skin against the dangers that lurk and keep your home WiFi network safe, you need to make sure the people using it are well-equipped to identify and react to potential threats on the internet.
Most people don't understand the threats they face, which is why individual users who make a mistake are often at the center of major cybercrime stories. But if you can educate yourself and take a proactive approach, you can develop good habits in your home that will keep everyone accessing the internet safely and securely.
Many of these recommendations are geared towards families with children living in the home, but they can be adapted for other situations and still represent best practices.
Everyone who has access to your home WiFi network is a potential "weakest link" that could be exploited, leading to your network being compromised. As a result, it's essential to be clear about what's expected of everyone.
Establish guidelines about who you give the WiFi password to and which network details your provide (many routers allow you to create a "guest" network that makes sharing much easier) and which passwords can and can't be used, is an excellent first step.
You'll also want to talk about sharing preferences. Some people don't like or want their photo or information on the web, and it's important everyone in the house respects the wishes of others, especially when it comes to social media.
Of course, people will continue to be people, and they will make mistakes. Still, if everyone in the house agrees on the need to focus on cybercrime, then there is generally going to be more action taken towards keeping everyone safe.
We should note that it's particularly important to have these conversations with children, who are easily duped when online and often don't even recognize the presence of a threat. Of course, children, especially teenagers, will always push for independence and autonomy, which is why it's so important to establish a healthy dialogue before or immediately after they begin operating in the digital world.
Our conversations about keeping the WiFi network safe need to include a discussion about phishing and spoofing.
Phishing is an attempt made by hackers to get you to hand over information or money willingly. It ranges from the infamous Nigerian prince scam (in which someone asks you to send money overseas that will be paid back handsomely "someday") to impersonations of legitimate websites meant to steal login and other valuable data.
Spoofing is the act of creating a false website, email, image, etc. that looks very close to the real thing. It's commonly used in phishing to convince people that what they're being asked to do is legitimate.
Spend some time searching about phishing and spoofing too see some examples and learn the signs. Misspelled email addresses and URLs, slightly different logos, vague requests, and urgent demands (give us your data now or lose everything) are all signs of a scam.
Google has a tool that tests your ability to spot these types of scams, and using it a few times can really improve your ability to detect fraud when it comes your way.
While it might not be a popular decision for those with children in the home, making use of your network's parental controls could be the best way to keep both your kids and your network safe.
Parental controls allow you to block access to certain sites and certain types of sites and content. You can also regulate when your kids can get online and set up measures that limit how much sharing they can do when they're on social media.
Implementing these may make you safer, but they can also lead to arguments. We feel the best approach is to educate kids and encourage them to develop good habits, but there are times where extra effort is needed, and parental controls do a wonderful job of helping keep you secure.
As you can see, securing your home WiFi network requires a comprehensive approach. It's not enough to just make sure there's a password; there are many other ways for hackers to infiltrate your digital life and wreak havoc.
Fortunately, though, keeping yourself and your home safe isn't too tricky if you implement the measures we've outlined today. These, plus constant vigilance and a willingness to adapt to changes, will keep you protected from and one step ahead of cybercrime, keeping your home WiFi network as safe and sound as it should be.