The internet router is one of the most important devices in our home. But for many of us, once a wireless router has been installed, we tuck it away somewhere and forget about it.

As long as all our devices are set up and connected via the Wi-Fi network, that’s all that matters. This is what most of us think. Generally, we only set up a password to prevent neighbours and other people from using our network.

But because the router is a gateway to the internet, cybercriminals can use it to sneak onto your network. An online criminal can exploit poor Wi-Fi security measures and ‘sniff’ data that moves over your network, and steal sensitive information to launch malicious missives such as man-in-the-middle attacks.

How man-in-the-middle attacks work

There are three players in man-in-the-middle attacks. First there is the victim who is being attacked, the computer or server (belonging to an organisation) with which the victim is trying to communicate and the ‘man in the middle’, who’s intercepting the victim’s communications.

There are several different types of man-in-the-middle attacks but the one concerning the router is particularly nasty.
  • The attacker monitors the user’s online activity and can intercept login credentials, payment card information, and more. 
  • Attackers then insert tools between the victim’s computer and the websites the user visits. 
  • In such a situation an attacker, for instance, can read all your private messages and see where you shop and browse online. 
  • They can also access your passwords, log-in credentials, passcode numbers and so on.

As you can see this can potentially be devastating. It’s a bit like giving crooks access to all your personal information such as payment card details and ATM code numbers.

Lock down your router

There are several steps you can take to lock down your router so hackers can’t access your home network. Before we get there here’s how to access your router interface which will be necessary to make some of the changes listed below.Open your web browser and type in the IP address of the router (this is 192.168.0.1 by default). 
  • Enter the username (admin) and password and then click OK or Log In. You should find these on the back of your router. If there is only a passkey (password) on your router then the username may be left as a blank field, or ‘admin’ can be entered.

Change the network name

  • Changing your Wi-Fi’s default name makes it harder for malicious attackers to know what type of router you have. 
  • If a cybercriminal knows the manufacturer name of your router, they will know what vulnerabilities that model has and then try to exploit them. 
  • You can give your network any name but it’s a good idea to make it obscure.

Set a strong password

Make sure you set a strong and unique password to secure your wireless network
  • You probably know that every wireless router comes pre-set with a default password, which is needed in the first place to install and connect your router. 
  • But it’s easy for hackers to guess it, especially if they know the manufacturer. 
  • A good wireless password should be at least 12 characters long and include numbers, letters, and various symbols. 
  • It’s a good idea to change the username too, or enter a username of your choice if one doesn’t exist.

Check your network encryption

Wireless networks come with multiple encryption languages, such as WEP, WPA or WPA2.
  • You should, as a matter of default, be using WPA2, as it’s a standard security system now, so all wireless networks are compatible with it.

The Wi-Fi Alliance recently announced its next-generation wireless network security standard, WPA3 which aims to solve a common security issue: open Wi-Fi networks.

It comes with security enhancements and includes a suite of features to simplify Wi-Fi security configuration for users and service providers. It will take time to roll out though as equipment manufacturers bring their products up to compliance.

Turn off the router when not at home

  • It’s a good idea to disable the wireless home network when’re you’re not at home for substantial period of time. 
  • This closes any windows of opportunity malicious hackers might attempt to get access to it while you are away. 
  • It minimises the chances of becoming a target for hackers and also lowers the possibility of being damaged by electric power surges.

Place the router in a central position in your home.

You probably haven’t thought about this but the location of your Wi-Fi router can have an impact on your security.
  • It’s best to place the router as close as possible to the middle of your house. This ensures the wireless signal range doesn’t reach too far outside your home.
  • For instance don’t place it close to a window as there’s nothing to block the signal going outside your home.