How to protect your home network from online threats
Whether they need it or not, an increasing number of the gadgets in and around our homes require an Internet connection. This includes not only things like mobile phones and smart TVs, but everything from our cars to fridges to lights and thermostats. While this connectivity can make everyday life more convenient, it also poses the same risk you get from browsing the Internet on your computer – the potential for security risks.
In an ideal world, we would advise people to cut down on the number of internet connected devices they own – but as anyone who’s bought a TV recently will know, ‘smart’ technology is often the only option that’s available. In light of this, here are some simple tips to help secure your home network from cybercriminals, and help protect this web of home devices.
The Internet of Things
The advent of WiFi – and more particularly, the ability to cram wireless chips and antennae into even the smallest devices – had led to an explosion in networked devices. From a fridge that orders fresh milk for you, to a set top box you can use to record shows remotely, most of the electronics we use are now Internet connected. This network of devices all recording data and communicating with each other is known as the Internet of Things – and it has interesting ramifications for Internet security.
Some of these devices only connect to your local network, allowing you to control them from your computer or phone. Others however rely on the internet, either for the extra computing power they need to perform their tasks, or to upload and download data. This is how many devices operate, as it allows them to be controlled even when you are out of the house, and thus away from your home network. What this adds in terms of convenience, however, it can take away in terms of security – both of the device itself and your entire network.
There are two main problems with having all of these connected devices in your home (or indeed in the workplace). The first is simple volume: the more routes there are into your network, the more vulnerable it is. Every device that’s connected to the Internet can potentially be accessed by someone else – and once they have a route into your network, they could use that access to compromise other devices. More devices means more opportunities to exploit vulnerabilities in those devices.
The second problem is how often these devices are updated, and how well they were secured in the first place. Many IoT devices lack secure connections to the Internet, and also rely on manufacturer updates to address security flaws. In many cases, so many different IoT devices are being produced every year that older devices do not continue to be updated, if they are updated at all.
This means that devices can become less secure even as people continue to use them, because the manufacturer drops support for them as they become less popular. This poses a huge security risk if you are not aware of this, constantly checking for updates and replacing old devices after a few years – something that people are reluctant to do for both monetary and environmental reasons.
How to protect your home network
IoT devices are certainly one aspect of the growing cybersecurity risk faced by home networks – but they are far from the only issue. A major reason why securing your home network is more important than ever is that many of us are using it more often. Remote working means that many people are now working from home several times a week, and potentially putting our work data at risk.
In light of this escalating threat, there are some steps that individuals and businesses should take to secure private home networks. Educating yourself or your staff about these measures will help to protect them in all aspects of your online lives – keeping your personal and financial information secure, and your work data safe and hidden from prying eyes.
Change your router passwords
There are two passwords you need to be aware of when it comes to your router: the WiFi password and the admin password. The WiFi password is the most direct means of connecting to your network, and thus the most obvious one to target. While most routers no longer have a uniform WiFi password, they do list the factory default on the back of the router, often on a small, detachable card. If your router is near a window or you leave this card lying around, someone could easily steal it.
The other password to consider is the admin panel password. This is often a generic password, which will be common to all routers of that type, meaning it’s especially important to change it. You will usually have to be logged into the network to access the admin panel, but you can sometimes access it remotely (i.e. over the Internet). If someone does gain access, they can control every aspect of the router – potentially allowing them to disable firewalls and other security features, and set up their own access points.
Both passwords can usually be changed from inside this admin panel. Your router will normally have the address for this panel (an IP number such as 192.168.1.1) and default password on the back. It’s a good idea to do this straight away, and to use a strong password for each, containing a combination of letters, cases, numbers and symbols. If you struggle to remember passwords like this, you may choose a unique passphrase instead, consisting of several random words strung together, which will be hard to guess. Writing your new password down is also generally fine for home use, as long as you keep it hidden away.
Change your SSID
By default, most SSIDs – the name of your router that appears when you connect to it) – include the name of your broadband provider, or of the router itself. This can make it easy to identify a router, allowing criminals to target you specifically and guess default passwords for those routers. Changing your SSID (and ideally keeping your router out of sight) will prevent this, removing one common angle of attack. It’s also a good opportunity to personalise, and have a bit of fun with some bad Internet puns.
Update your firmware
Firmware is essentially the operating system for a piece of hardware. Much as you have to update Windows or MacOS periodically to improve its security and functionality, so your router and other networked devices need to be updated. While your computer and phone often feature other forms of protection against malware (though this doesn’t mean it’s less important to update them!), though, other devices can be inherently less secure. This makes it crucial that you update all the devices connected to your network, from your phone to your fridge.
While some devices will update automatically, many won’t, as they don’t want to be unavailable for a period during your daily routine. Instead, you’ll have to manually update them; or (if the feature exists) set a time period for them to automatically update, such as during the night. Some devices will be better supported than others, and receive more frequent updates, which is why it’s often better to go with the crowd and buy popular and well-supported devices from trusted manufacturers.
It’s extremely important to make sure that you are protecting your home network. The team at Sota can help you with a smarter approach to personal home networks and firewalls, as well as security for the workplace.
By partnering with Sota, we can help protect your privacy by shielding your home and work devices, for peace of mind when it comes to your IT infrastructure. To learn more, get in touch with a member of our team today.