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Wise Tech Tips

Securing a Network Router

By James Wise
web posted April 20, 2009
TECH TIPS – Many people use routers to create a network between multiple computers in the home and possibly share an Internet connection between those computers. If you don’t have one already, we’ll talk about the many benefits of a router and how to set one up in future columns. Today’s column is really more for those who already have a router because if you don’t follow a few simple steps to secure your router, other people could gain access to your network allowing them to possibly see your personal files or use your Internet connection.

All the things we’ll talk about today are done via the setup page of your router. Generally, this is accessed by opening Internet Explorer, Firefox or whatever browser you use and going to the address of the router (typically or If you need help accessing your router, the documentation that came with it should provide this information as well as the default username and password you’ll need to access it (if you didn’t already change this). If you need further assistance though, you can often find helpful information by going to the website of your router’s manufacturer or by searching the Internet for help or you can email me.

Let’s assume that you have been able to access your router’s configuration page. Unfortunately, the configuration page you will see varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and even from model to model. So, no one set of screenshots or instructions can be given for all users. If you can’t find where to do the things mentioned below, you can again refer to documentation or websites or email me at edgefieldtechhelp@gmail.com.

Note that some of the items below ONLY apply to wireless enabled routers. If all of your computers are directly wired to your router, you might not have a wireless router. If you have a wireless router and don’t use the wireless part, you can use the configuration page (or possibly a physical switch) to turn off the wireless radio. In this case, you can skip the “wireless only” steps below.

Step 1 (wireless only) – Change the SSID (network name)
Most routers come with a default SSID or network name. This is the name you see when you look at available wireless networks from your computer. Normally this is something like LINKSYS, DLINK, NETGEAR, etc... While not exactly a security measure, I would recommend changing this name to something unique but not really something that identifies you specifically (no reason for other people to know for sure whose networks they might see). Sometimes, you might hear a suggestion to “disable the SSID broadcast.” This can be done but generally this just makes things more difficult on you when you want to add a computer to your network and it doesn’t really make any difference in how secure your network is (so long as you use option 3 below).

Step 2 – Change the “admin” password for your router.
Many manufactures use the same username/password for all their routers and it’s generally very easy for someone to find this out. To avoid that someone would gain access to your router and have the ability to change settings (which could expose you to risk), I always recommend to change the password to something only you know. Where possible, use 8 or more digits/characters for a password and use numbers, letters, and one or more special characters (like “!”). This produces a very secure password. I would also suggest to write that password down and put it on a label attached to the bottom of your router. Note that I never recommend a computer’s password is written down and attached like this but for a router, I think this is fine.

Step 3 (wireless only) – Secure Wireless Connections
Many routers ship with NO SECURITY allowing anyone to use your router if they are within range of it’s wireless signal. This would include nearby homes but could even include people driving by your house. If you have a wireless router, ALWAYS enable security. There are several different security modes including WEP and WPA. WPA2 is the most secure option you can use. However some routers and/or devices don’t support it (especially older ones). WPA is also a good option if you can’t use WPA2. WEP would be next in line. It is relatively secure but there are ways to hack it if someone is determined to do so. Therefore I would recommend to only use this if you have no other option. Keep in mind that you’ll have to use a security level supported by all of your devices. In other words, if everything you have supports WPA2 but the wireless card on one PC only supports WEP, you would have to use WEP or replace the wireless card or driver software of the problem computer to support a higher level of security. When using any security option, you’ll have to create a password for the wireless connection. Once more, I would suggest to use the password tips under option 2.

Step 4 – Update the Router’s Firmware
Firmware is the software the hardware runs (i.e. the operating system of the router). Often, there are firmware updates published for routers to add functionality, patch problems, etc… If the configuration page of your router allows you to check for and update your firmware, I would suggest doing this every few months or so at least to stay up to date.

Occasionally people also suggest using “MAC Address Filtering” to secure a router. Each network card has a unique MAC address assigned to it and so in theory, you can use MAC Address Filtering to setup a list of the authorized addresses of your equipment so that only equipment you allow can access your network. Setting this up makes new connections more difficult for you and most importantly, it is possible for hackers to change the address of their cards to match an allowed address so this doesn’t really offer good security. Therefore, I don’t generally recommend this provided that step 3 above is used.

Lastly, if you are leaving home for vacation or something (extended absence), I would generally recommend that you turn off your router. Sometimes however, there are several reasons you might not want to do this. For example, if you have cameras setup that you can access over the Internet, you wouldn’t want to turn the router off. Likewise, you might want to be able to access your home computer remotely or might use VOIP (telephone over the Internet) that you don’t want turned off.

Do you have a tech question you would like answered or a program you would like to recommend? Email me at edgefieldtechhelp@gmail.com. For computer questions, please include your operating system version (e.g. Windows Vista) and sorry, but I don’t do Macs.

Disclaimer: Software, tips, and links provided are used at the risk of the reader.


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