One of the fun things with the Tech Savvy column is being able to answer questions from readers.
Online security is always a strong topic. We live so much of our lives online these days and we are asked to create a seemingly endless number of accounts and passwords in order to do so. That goes for everything from ordering a veggie pizza to doing online banking, to getting health data. We are often warned against using public Wi-Fi options that could leave us open to hacking. But one area of online security may not get as much attention and it’s right in your home — your own Wi-Fi router.
Next time you’re at home, use a smartphone or tablet to connect to the internet. The names of your neighbors’ Wi-Fi accounts will start popping up. Sometimes it’s interesting just to see what they’ve named their setups. But the real test is whether the Wi-Fi router is secure.
The Wi-Fi router is the link to the internet for all the smart devices in your home. The wireless router connects to a modem (from your internet or cable service provider) and uses built-in antennas to communicate with all the devices in the home that need internet access. That may be Alexa via the Amazon Echo Dots, the smart TV or fridge, the iPads, smartphones, laptops, smart appliances, plugs, door locks, home security devices or even lightbulbs. It’s a growing list as the demand for more bandwidth — to accommodate a greater amount of data — to use them all can attest.
So with many things connected and the guest Wi-Fi there, for the day when those gatherings of friends are once again a thing, how secure is the network running it all? Or is your house the spot where people park along the curb to get some free internet access?
CTC provided the expert assistance to answer the security questions and the process to change the setup for greater security was actually easy after following their instructions. When I had trouble with internet connections, I purchased a new Linksys dual router to replace a much older one that could no longer keep up with all the smart devices in my house. But I hadn’t gone the extra step to make that system more secure until this question came up and CTC provided step by step instructions on how to do it.
Making the system changes took a couple of minutes. I had a password for my guest Wi-Fi from the dual router and even after changing the system, my iPhone was pretty sure they weren’t password protected. So for the time being I simply shut the guest access options off. Along the way, I noticed the nice option of being able to shut off or temporarily suspend the internet access for specific devices using the parental controls.
But first things first. If you are getting a message that your system isn’t protected as strongly as it should be, there are simple steps to change the router setup to make it more secure.
Here are the tips and steps from Ryan Rosenwald, CTC technology manager, and Eric Johnson, network analyst III.
Steps to create a more secure home internet system
Rosenwald said the security with the Wi-Fi Protected Access, listed as WPA followed by a number, is most secure with WPA3 although older devices don’t have the capability to use WPA3, which is why it’s not prominent on most routers yet.
“WPA2 is the most common protocol and much more secure than WPA,” Rosenwald noted. “A simple explanation why WPA2 is better is that it requires longer passwords and the encryption methodology is much stronger (among other things).
Most secure to least secure are:
Open Network (no security/password).
“To ensure your Guest Wi-Fi is password protected, you should definitely test it out by connecting to it and making sure it’s asking you for the password,” Rosenwald stated in an email. “There are settings occasionally that you can enable to make it so different devices connecting to the Guest network can’t see or communicate with each other. This helps in case that network is compromised since the offending attacker can’t do anything to other connected devices.”
Rosenwald added having a Guest Wi-Fi password “is also a good thing since then it would eliminate someone from sitting outside your house in a car (if the wireless signal is strong enough) and utilize your internet without your knowledge. You can just let your guests know what your Guest password is when they are visiting.”
As another tip, Rosenwald recommends changing the default password to access the router settings anytime a new Wi-Fi router is purchased for the home. “The reason for this would be if someone did compromise your Wi-Fi network, at least they wouldn’t be able to log directly into the router and change other settings from a security standpoint.”
Steps to secure your wireless router
Johnson, from CTC, provided the steps to change the router security mode.
He noted the steps will vary depending on the brand, model, and firmware of the wireless router.
“There should be a sticker located on the side or bottom of your wireless router,” Johnson reported. “This will contain the IP address, username, and password to log in.”
Open a web browser on one of your Wi-Fi connected devices and enter the IP address (Ex: http://192.168.1.1). Enter the username and password, when prompted.
First, let’s change the security mode on the Wi-Fi network.
You will need to click through the menu to get to the Wi-Fi settings: Configuration > Wi-Fi > Wireless Security.
“There will be an entry for ‘Security Mode’ with a dropdown menu. Select ‘WPA2 Personal’ from the available options,” Johnson said. “You may be prompted to re-enter your Wi-Fi password.”
Is the guest Wi-Fi network password protected?
Click through the menu to get to the Guest Wi-Fi settings: Configuration > Wi-Fi > Guest Access.
There will be a similar entry for ‘Security Mode’. If ‘Open’ is selected, your Guest Wi-Fi network is not password protected, Johnson reported.
To add a password to your Guest Wi-Fi network, select ‘WPA2 Personal’ from the dropdown menu.
Hello Wi-Fi 6
So if you are in the market for a new router, CNET recently noted the Wi-Fi router is the “unsung hero of holding your smart home together.” In April, CNET published its list of the best Wi-Fi routers of 2021 with the Wi-Fi 6 router as the latest for fast, efficient home networking performance. The TP-Link Archer AX6000 topped the list for Wi-Fi 6 routers and the best mesh router was the Nest Wi-Fi. A mesh router has one main router connected and a family of additional satellite modules or nodes that can be placed around the house to extend wireless internet access throughout the home, reaching to upper floors or the farthest bedroom, the garage workshop, or even outside to the deck.
Linksys reports most mesh systems use a mobile app for a guided setup, which walks you through the process and even helps identify dead zones in Wi-Fi coverage. Linksys is releasing a Wi-Fi 6E mesh system this spring/summer. So look for a host of manufacturers to provide new options in routers using the 6 gigahertz band the Federal Communications Commission opened to Wi-Fi and other uses.
An April 2020 news release from the FCC, stated, “These new rules will usher in Wi-Fi 6, the next generation of Wi-Fi, and play a major role in the growth of the Internet of Things. Wi-Fi 6 will be over two-and-a-half times faster than the current standard and will offer better performance for American consumers. Opening the 6 GHz band for unlicensed use will also increase the amount of spectrum available for Wi-Fi by nearly a factor of five and help improve rural connectivity.”