This is just one step in a series created to help anyone improve their online security regardless of their technical knowledge. For more information, see our complete Simple Online Security series.
Your Wi-Fi router—whether it’s built into your modem or connected to your modem by an Ethernet cable—is the device that broadcasts a network that your computers and devices connect to. If your router isn’t set up properly, it can also be a potential door for someone else to step into your home network. Setting up your network securely takes only a few steps, but the router you have will determine how easy the process is. Every router brand has a different interface, so we can’t provide specific directions here—but the four changes we do recommend are the same for every router.
- Set a good Wi-Fi password: Since someone has to be near the router to access your Wi-Fi network, you don’t need to go crazy with your password, but it should be at least 12 characters long and not something obvious such as a name or address. And since you’ll probably give your password to visitors for their use, it helps to choose a pronounceable passphrase instead of a random string. Creating a passphrase, as you can do with a tool like 1Password’s “memorable password” option, is a great way to make a unique but memorable password.
- Change the Wi-Fi router’s default password: Your router’s administrator password is different from your Wi-Fi password. Some routers, especially older ones, have a default administrator password like “password” or “1234,” so it’s good to change the default so that nobody who’s on your home network can tinker with the settings. If you’ve never logged in to your router before, the process can be a bit tricky (you do it by typing a numerical string into your computer’s browser URL bar), but this guide from How-To Geek can help you figure out your router’s address. If you don’t know the default password, this page lists all of them for each router brand. Sometimes your internet service provider supplies you with a modem-router combo unit, but usually you can still change the settings even on that kind of model. Once you find your way into the router’s administration panel, change the default password to something unique and then save it in your password manager.
- Use the strongest security settings: While you’re changing the administrator and Wi-Fi passwords, it’s good to check which security standard your router is using. Some older routers use a standard called WEP, which is outdated and not secure. Instead, look for WPA2-PSK or WPA3 and change the setting accordingly, if it’s available. If not, it might be time to upgrade your router.
- Upgrade your firmware: Some modern routers support automatic firmware updates, but many others don’t, so you may need to go in and check for updates manually now and again. Updating ensures that your router has the most recent security patches and features.
Most other default router settings are fine for most people. Don’t enable anything you don’t know how to use or if you don’t know what it means. This rule of thumb especially holds true for tools like remote access, which opens a router to the internet and isn’t necessary for most people to enable.
Read more about router security.
This article was edited by Arthur Gies and Mark Smirniotis.