How to secure your home Wi-Fi network and router
PCWorld|October 2021
Make sure what happens on your network stays private on your network.
ALAINA YEE

Your home network’s security is only as good as the configuration of your router or gateway. Leave it open or vulnerable, and you might end up with freeloaders that hog your bandwidth, in the best-case scenario. At worst, a snoop might take the opportunity to examine your internal traffic, hoping to discover sensitive information about you that can be exploited.

To ensure that only approved devices are connected to your network, you can take a few simple steps to strengthen its security, which we explain below. If you can’t access some of these settings in your gateway (the combination modem/router provided by your internet service provider), consider switching off the router part of it and using a dedicated router instead, of either the traditional or mesh variety.

CHANGE YOUR PASSWORDS

Depending on your router’s age, you may need to change both the administrator password (which gives access to the management interface) and the Wi-Fi password.

Older routers usually default to ultra-simple passwords for the administrator account —think “admin” and “password”—and they’re easily found online. You may have also chosen a simple, crackable password when turning on encryption for your network. For both scenarios, choose a new, stronger replacement. The best way to do this is a built-in password generator in a password manager (go. pcworld.com/ bpmr)—they’ll be truly random and thus more secure, and the manager will ensure you don’t forget it. (Good free password managers [go.pcworld.com/fpmr] exist, so solid online security doesn’t have to cost you a thing.)

Newer routers often come with random passwords as a default. It doesn’t hurt to change those passwords as well if your router or gateway has that information printed on it, though, particularly if you have less control over who might have physical access to the device. Just be sure to keep track of your new passwords, ideally in a password manager as mentioned.

ENABLE ENCRYPTION

You should always encrypt your network traffic. These days, choose WPA2 for the best security. Older protocols like WPA and the ancient WEP won’t adequately protect you. If your router supports the newer WPA3 protocol, you can try it out—it’s an improvement over WPA2—but all of your connecting devices must support that protocol. Most people can stick with WPA2 for now, and then flip over to WP3 once all devices in the household can also make the leap.

When setting up WPA2 encryption, pick WPA2 Personal if given a choice between that and WPA2 Enterprise in your router settings. Also, if you see TKIP and AES as different encryption options, go with AES as it’s much stronger.

For older devices that cap out at WPA, consider upgrading your router at last. You’ll get better security, faster speeds, and more features for as little as $50 (go.pcworld.com/ tpac) or less if you wait for a sale. If you’re on an ancient router that only has WEP, replace it stat. You’re barely one step above having an open network.

As for folks who leave encryption off because you want to share your internet with others: We salute your altruism, but don’t let that come back to haunt you. As mentioned above, no encryption means people can spy on your internet traffic, giving them clues to your activities (including banking). That could lead to some troublesome problems down the road.

CHANGE YOUR SSID

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