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Sunday, September 26, 2021

Halting hackers: How to keep your home Wi-Fi router secure

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TORONTO — How secure is your Wi-Fi router?

When it comes to home cybersecurity, experts tell CTVNews.ca that too many Canadians are overlooking their Wi-Fi routers, leaving their networks vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

“The word ‘router’ for most casual users of technology is often somewhat intimidating,” London, Ont.-based technology analyst Carmi Levy told CTVNews.ca over the phone on Friday.

“They’re intimidated by this technology. They just want it to work and then once it’s working, they don’t want to tempt fate by digging into the settings and making any changes.”

Having a compromised router could allow hackers to spy on everything that you’re doing online, including your banking and medical information, or steal your bandwidth. A compromised router can even give hackers access to your security cameras, baby mentors and other smart home devices on the network.

“There were recent incidents where baby monitors got hacked,” said Toronto-based cybersecurity expert Ritesh Kotak in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca on Friday. “That’s some scary stuff.”

Hackers can also use a compromised router to replace the websites that you want to visit with fake phishing websites and try to steal your login credentials and personal info, through a process known as “DNS hijacking.”

Cybersecurity firm Bitdefender reported on one such DNS hijacking scheme back in March 2020, when victims hoping to visit certain major websites were redirected to a fake message from the World Health Organization about COVID-19 asking them to download a malicious app.

“Think of your router as another lock on your front door. And if you leave that lock vulnerable, it’s one less step for cyber criminals to go through in order to get to you,” said Levy.

Here are some tips on how to secure your home network:

CHANGE THE DEFAULT PASSWORDS

One of the easiest ways to make sure your router is secure is to change all the default passwords on it, experts say.

Changing your Wi-Fi password to something that can’t easily be guessed and hiding your SSID (or the name of if your Wi-Fi network) can go a long way in stopping a neighbour from stealing your internet bandwidth.

“There’s some risk in that if crimes actually get committed by that individual’s computer, it’s your IP address that’s going to come up in that police report,” Kotak said.

Some newer routers can even send you notifications whenever a new device connects to your network. If your router has this feature, Kotak recommends enabling it.

“If a new device connects, I get notified that a new device has connected. If the device doesn’t look familiar, I’m going to start questioning it,” he said.

You should also change the username and password to your router’s settings page. Refer to your router’s manual or the manufacturer’s website to find out how to access this page and change the credentials.

Kotak notes that default passwords for router settings pages often have extremely easy-to-guess default usernames and passwords, such as “admin” and “password,” and that it’s important to use a strong, unique password that combines uppercase and lowercase letters along with numbers.

KEEP THE ROUTER’S FIRMWARE UP TO DATE

It’s also important to keep your router’s firmware up to date. Manufacturers regularly release firmware updates in order to patch security vulnerabilities.

“Hackers will discover weaknesses in certain equipment, including routers, and then the company that manufactures the router will release a security update or patch that you must download and install to close up that vulnerability,” said Levy.

“The problem is that many people don’t even bother to do this. They just buy the router, they plug it in and then they forget about it.”

Some newer routers able to automatically update their firmware. But for most routers, you’ll have to download the firmware and install it yourself. Check your router manufacturer’s website or the manual for instructions on how to do this.

ENABLE THE GUEST NETWORK

If you have guests over and want to give them your Wi-Fi password, consider setting up a guest network, which allows your guests’ devices to connect to the internet while being separated from the rest of the devices on your network.

If you have any smart home devices, such as a Google Home or a Ring doorbell, Kotak also recommends putting those devices on the guest network to keep them secure.

None of these methods are 100 per cent foolproof, but Kotak says that it’s all about adding more layers of security and creating more “friction” for potential attackers.

“Friction is good. The more steps that you have for somebody get access to the network, the better.”​

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