Sunday, May 11, 2014

2 Important settings for your Wi-Fi router

Wi-Fi has been successful due to its ease of setup, speed it provides and area it covers. Its perfect for home usage and most of us enjoy that daily. Various network devices (Smartphone, Kindle, Mac, laptops, tablets, XBOX) are Wi-Fi enabled and we connect them happily to Wi-Fi router to get internet access.

Wi-Fi however comes with two security issues. Wireless nature of Wi-Fi can hide all the security holes that a Wi-Fi router has opened up behind the scene.

Here are two must have settings for Wi-Fi router - 

  1. Wi-Fi network password - That encrypts all data going from your device to Wi-Fi router and no body around can sniff what goes on wireless. 
  2. Wi-Fi router password - This is the password that you use to login to Wi-Fi router to configure using web interface. This is the point which is most forgotten about and can cause major security issues.  

 1. Wi-Fi network password set to WPA2: With newer Wi-Fi routers, it comes in with unique password setup that you have to use on smartphone to connect. This password is generally printed below the router and ready for you to use.

Wi-Fi network password is secret key that is used between your phone and Wi-Fi router. Communication done over wireless media needs to be encrypted so that no one around you can sniff the wireless signals to see what you are doing. There are 3 encryption standards (WEP, WPA and WPA2) and the best one to configure is WPA2.

You can easily find out if your Wi-Fi connection is using WEP / WPA / WPA2 by navigating to Wi-Fi settings on your phone/tablet and opening Wi-Fi network details you are connected to. If it says WEP/WPA then its better to change to WPA2.  You will need to login to your Wi-Fi router and change the settings. This depends on router you are using and you will have to google how to setup WPA2 on your router make. A sample Linksys method is shown in below image.

WEP & WPA are older standards and can be cracked by your neighbors in 15-30 minutes to gain free internet access or see all your shared files on other machines. WPA2 comes with highest encryption standards and said to be un-cracked.

2. Wi-Fi router Web-Page password: This is the login password to configure your Wi-Fi router. All of the routers comes with pre-defined default password. You can look at default password of your router here.

With default password available in public, its becomes easy to crack the password, and all that can happen as your browse internet at home.  Here is a recent  report on Chameleon Virus that infects Wi-Fi router.

A website can change the software/firmware on your router as you browse and reset all settings.  New software/firmware may take 1-2 minutes to reboot your Wi-Fi router and then it can do all sorts of things which you may never notice. It can provide backdoor to your network to anyone, or can be used as email server to spam other users on internet, or it can change your webpages to show mode ads dynamically. And many more things. Wi-Fi router is small enough (3-4mb) and thus downloading and installing that on router may just take couple of minutes to make it work as required.

Easy way to protect your Wi-Fi router is to change the default password to something strong. Changing the password on router depended on device you got. You need to search for "Changing default Wi-Fi router password for <your device name>" or refer user manual for your device.

Changing default password on router makes it difficult for anyone to modify the software on router or change settings on it dynamically. In case you forgot the router password, you can reset the router using 'reset' button on it. Refer router manual for details.

Here is sample page to change router password for Linksys router

Some other settings that you should also consider :
  1. Change Wi-Fi network name from default to something more meaningful
  2. Change Wi-Fi password once in six months
Monitor which devices connects to your router:
If you have android device then you can install app that can scan your Wi-Fi network and list the number of devices connected. Download and install 'Net scan' free app from Google Play.

If you think there are unknown devices, then its time to change Wi-Fi network password and reconnect all your known devices with new password. Any one outside/neighbors will get kicked off as they don't have your new network password to connect.

Hope this helps. Feel free to post comments or queries below.

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