I don’t want to startle you, but if someone wants to gain access to your home network by breaking your router’s encryption, they can and will.
With that said, it is unlikely to happen because it just isn’t worth the time and effort for most. However, that is no excuse to be complacent and let year after long year pass while not upgrading your network hardware. If you don’t keep your equipment up to date, you run the risk of being a victim of identity fraud and who knows what else.
So for those of you who have had the same router for ten years and are now using it to prop up that coffee table with the broken leg, it’s time to replace it and talk about what you can do to make sure your new router as secure as a tailless cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
If you’re like me and you live in Maine, you probably have Time Warner Cable for your internet service provider. I won’t bore you with an anecdotal diatribe about Time Warner because that would fill a decent size claw foot bathtub, but I will offer this advice: Do not lease equipment from them, as it is antiquated and more often than not, used.
You’re better off purchasing a modem from their approved list and connecting it to a router with a built-in switch and wireless capabilities. That way, you can connect multiple peripherals through a direct connection and also be able to use your favorite wireless devices like a smartphone or laptop. The equipment will eventually pay for itself due to the lack of a lease fee on your cable bill.
Make sure the router says “Gigabit” on it and not “Fast Ethernet.” Fast Ethernet is an old standard and will more than likely bottleneck your home network speed.
The next thing you want to make sure you router has is either “802.11AC” or “802.11N” wireless speeds, as any other standard will be too old to consider.
You will also want to ensure the router manufacturer allows you to change the default name and password. This is just an added level of security, and be sure to make it long enough to stall brute force attacks. Twelve characters should be fine.
Last but not least: Do not use WPS, aka Wi-Fi Protected Setup. It is a feature added to routers that has a litany of flaws, including vulnerabilities to brute force attacks and physical security issues if the router is not kept in a secure area.
Once you have your modem hooked up and your router connected and are able to get into the settings menu, it will be important to remember two things: WPA2 and AES. WPA2 stands for Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 and is the go-to protocol choice for home routers. AES stands for Advanced Encryption Standard and is the most secure method for encrypting your router. If you see settings for WEP or TKIP, run away very fast. Using these would be like removing the front door of your house and never thinking to replace it.
These are just some of the first things you want to think about when securing your home network. If you want to dig into your router and play with some of the more advanced features, I would highly encourage it — but be sure you do your research first. You don’t want that tailless cat losing its nerve.
Chris Greer is a member of the Information Technology senior seminar course and business-unit application support analyst at a local financial institution.