Written by Alice Stevens | Last Updated February 24th, 2020Alice Stevens has managed the health and life insurance content for Best Company since 2018. She’s passionate about conducting good research and understanding the details you need to know about insurance. When she's not writing and researching, she enjoys good food and travel.
Everyone wants to feel secure in their own home. We lock our doors at night and when we’re not home. Some people even have home security systems installed. Just as we take measures to ensure our physical safety, we should also take measures to ensure our safety on the internet. Your Wi-Fi network should be at least as secure as your home.
Many internet service providers include an internet security feature as part of their internet package. This is a good start, but there are many simple and free ways to keep your Wi-Fi network secure.
Stop broadcasting your Wi-Fi network
Wi-Fi networks are broadcasted to allow devices to find and access the internet. A Wi-Fi password helps keep unauthorized users from using your internet, but you can go further by concealing your internet.
Austin Norby, software engineer at Blue Star Software, says, “You can turn off your SSID broadcast messages so when anyone looks for a network to connect to on their computer, they won't see yours. In order to connect to the "hidden" network, you must specify the SSID and then authenticate with the password.”
An additional step is to use a MAC address filter. A MAC address is a Media Access Control address. MAC addresses limit the devices that can access your Wi-Fi.
Norby says, “Even if you know the SSID (hidden or not) and you know the password, if you're device is not on the whitelist then it won't be authenticated to the network.”
Keeping your Wi-Fi off the radar and limiting who can access it are great ways to protect your privacy, but they have their limitations.
Norby says, “These measures will keep most unsophisticated people out, but it is possible to spoof or manipulate MAC addresses and avoid this hindrance.”
Monitor Wi-Fi use
One way to see if anyone has gotten past your broadcasting precautions is to check the router to see who has been using your Wi-Fi.
Jason Glassberg, Co-founder of Casaba Security, says, “You should do regular checks to see if anyone else has been connecting to your Wi-Fi router. You can do this by logging into the router's administrative console, which will give you a list of connected devices and usage statistics.”
With some internet companies, you don’t even have to log into the router.
Todd Morris, CEO of BrickHouse Security, says, “Use the mobile app that comes with most modern browsers to see what is connected to your network and look for any unusual activity.”
These checks will let you know the IP addresses of who has been using your internet. If you see unfamiliar IP addresses, you should check them out.
Jason Polancich, Co-founder of Musubu, says, “Check to see if the IP addresses hitting your Wi-Fi are malicious using a service like Musubu that lets you query IP addresses for free and see if they are associated with cyber threats. For the ones that come back with associated high scores of cyber risk, you can then put them into your router’s blocklist for IPs to keep them from even connecting or pinging your IP in the first place.”
Update device software
It is important to keep your router’s firmware up-to-date because it is the front gate to your Wi-Fi. The next step is to keep all of the devices that access your Wi-Fi up-to-date.
Mitchell Klein, the executive director of Z-Wave Alliance, says “Always install the latest software updates to ensure you have the best defense against malware and other online threats.”
Keeping your devices current will keep you from falling prey to old, easy hacks and security breaches. You can also go further.
Morris says, “Make sure the devices on your network are also secure with updated security patches and antivirus scanning software.”
These device-specific features will further enhance the security of your internet connection. However, consumers should be aware that not all devices that connect to Wi-Fi are created equally.
Glassberg says, “If your family uses an IP security camera, a baby monitor, or a kid's 'smart' toy, you need to understand that these Wi-Fi-connected devices are often highly insecure and easily hacked, especially if they are inexpensive. Even if you've taken the appropriate steps to protect your router, these connected devices can still be hacked and the hacker could eavesdrop on you and your family.”
It may be best to avoid these products altogether because of the risks they pose for internet security. However, if you choose to use these devices, there are a few things you can do.
“At a minimum, be sure to change the default passwords on these devices, but even that may not protect you if the device has other security failures. Do your homework before you buy these products,” says Glassberg.
Learn more about Internet Security Essentials.