If you’re concerned about the security of your home Wi-Fi network—and all the personal data on it—then you need to make sure access to your wireless network is locked down. Network security can feel intimidating if you’re not a technophile, but it’s easier to secure your internet connection than you might think.
What Is Network Security?
Network security keeps unauthorized users and hackers from accessing your Wi-Fi network and the devices that use it. There are a number of common sense practices that will help you secure your network, and a few extras that can ramp up your security level to top-secret.
Rename routers and networks.
Use strong passwords.
Keep everything updated.
Turn on encryption.
Use multiple firewalls.
Turn off the WPS (Wi-Fi protected setup) setting.
Use a VPN (virtual private network).
How to Secure Wi-Fi: Common Sense Practices for Every Home Network
Below are some of the easiest ways to secure your internet connection. These steps don’t require any special technical knowledge or extra purchases beyond a wireless router.
Rename Routers and Networks
All wireless routers come with a generic username, and many also include a generic password. When you set up the router for the first time, you’ll need to use this generic admin information, but after it’s up and running you should change both. The generic usernames and passwords that come with routers are public record, which makes a hacker’s job easy—especially if you skip changing the router’s factory settings.
After changing the username and password for your wireless router, you should change the name of your home Wi-Fi network. This is called the SSID (service set identifier), and it’s the name that people will see if they are scanning for nearby networks. Default network names often include the brand and model number of the router being used to create the network, which gives hackers valuable information about your Wi-Fi setup.
Avoid tipping off hackers (and keep neighbors from accessing your Wi-Fi) by renaming the network. Be warned that any devices currently connected to your Wi-Fi network will be kicked off after the name change, including smartphones, computers, game systems, smart home devices, etc. You’ll have to update and reconnect all of those devices when you rename the network.
Use Strong Passwords
You’ve likely heard more about strong passwords than you ever wanted to, but they keep coming up because they’re still one of the best lines of defense against data leaks and hackers. When it comes to setting up a network password that will keep out online miscreants, use the guidelines below.
Make it long—at least 16 characters is recommended.
Use a mixture of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.
Make sure it’s unique—don’t reuse a password you’ve already used.
Use a password manager. They help you keep track of your passwords, and some even generate random passwords that are hard for both humans and computers to crack.
Keep Everything Updated
Routers need to be updated on a regular basis. Router manufacturers update the firmware on routers whenever a vulnerability is detected, just like the operating system on your phone or PC. Set a reminder to check your router settings every month to see if there have been any updates.
Turn On Encryption
These days every router on the market includes encryption, and it’s one of the simplest ways to secure your internet connection. Go to your router’s settings and find the security options. Then look for the WPA2 Personal setting. If you don’t see that, select WPA Personal (but this could be a sign that your router is outdated and more vulnerable). Next, set the encryption type to AES. At this point you need to enter a password or network key. This password is different from the one you used for your router and will be used to connect all devices to your Wi-Fi network. Use the strong password guidelines above to create a secure password.
How to Secure Wi-Fi: Taking Network Security to the Next Level
At a minimum, you should do all the steps outlined above to protect your home network from hackers and other security threats. If you want to add even more network security, use these advanced methods to lock down your home Wi-Fi.
Use Multiple Firewalls
Your router should already have a built-in firewall that will protect your network from attacks. Check your settings to make sure it’s turned on. Look for SPI (stateful packet inspection) or NAT (network address translation), and make sure the firewall is active. To double-down on protection, you should also install a firewall on your computer. You can purchase firewall software in addition to activating the firewall that should be included as part of your operating system.
Turn Off the WPS Setting
The WPS, or Wi-Fi protected setup, is the function that lets devices like phones and smart home gadgets pair with your network. This setting is convenient, especially if you have a lot of smart devices to connect, but it leaves an opening for a hacker to get in. Look for the WPS button on your router and turn it off unless you’re actively pairing your devices with the network.
Use a VPN
A VPN (virtual private network) is one of the best ways to secure your internet connection. It acts as a middleman between your connected device and the internet. It hides your activity so that no one (even online advertisers) can see what you’re doing online. You can find free browser-based VPNs or subscribe to a monthly VPN service. This tool is a must-have for when you’re on a public network, but it’s also a smart way to add an extra layer of security to your home Wi-Fi.
Securing your internet connection is important, and it’s easier than most people think. After locking down your router and home Wi-Fi network, find out about additional security measures like antivirus software and identity theft protection.
Written by Rebecca Edwards
Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past six. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month testing and evaluating security products and strategies. Her safety expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. You can find her work and contributions in places like TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, HGTV, MSN, and an ever-growing library of radio and TV clips. Learn more