Safeguarding sensitive data: how to keep your Wi-Fi network secure

Unsecured Wi-Fi routers can act as a portal to your sensitive data

Researchers at Team Cymru recently found that hackers took control of 300,000 home routers. Once your home router has been compromised, hackers could re-direct your network to malicious websites controlled by hi-tech thieves who could then steal your online bank details and other sensitive data. And that's just the start.

However, there are some simple steps you can take to ensure your router and network are protected. We've put together a one-stop guide for protecting your WiFI network – follow these tips and your network will be super secure, allowing you to browse the internet and share documents, files and information safely.

Say no to 12345 passwords

First and foremost, never leave your router open without a password and make sure you change both your Wi-Fi and router login password from the default one it comes with.

Default passwords are often constructed in the same way and can easily cracked by those in-the-know. If the password is discovered this could give someone access to the router setup, which could allow them to change your router settings, including viewing any security keys.

Don't broadcast it

Make sure you don't show up in other people's wireless network scans. Know your network name so you can easily enter it into any devices you want to access that network. Other people do not need to know your network name.

To prevent outsiders from seeing your network's name and attempting to join your wireless network, turn off broadcasting in your router's settings.

No guests allowed

A guest network allows guests to share your internet connection without giving them access to your files and other devices on your private network. Guest networking is often used by businesses to provide customers courtesy access, but we recommend home users turn it off unless they have a home office setup.

Guest network passwords are sometimes configured with no security, or default passwords that anyone can easily look up on Google if they know the kind router you have, so it's best to change it the minute you set the router up.

Invite only please

One way you can ensure no one else joins your network without your permission is to enable your router to only allow certain devices to connect, and ban all others. To do that you can filter by media access control (MAC) addresses.

In essence, these are IDs for wireless or Ethernet adapters, allowing you to configure your router to only allow specific MAC addresses onto the network and keep all others off.

Turn it off

This is a simple piece of advice that can go a very long way in keeping you safe. Simply turn off your router when you're not using your network. If you're at work all day and no one's home, why keep it running? We don't keep the TV on! The less time your wireless network is available, the less likely it is to get hacked

Positioning is everything

Your WiFi signal will normally reach to the exterior of your home. A small amount of signal leakage outdoors is not a problem, but the further the signal reaches, the easier it is for others to detect and exploit. Try to position your router or access points near the centre of your home rather than near windows to minimise leakage and risk.

Check for intruders

The easiest way to see if someone is using your network is to use a network monitoring app. Many are designed for both home and small business users, allowing you to scan your network and see if you have any uninvited users or devices, also empowering you to block them.

Build a firewall

The firewall built into your router prevents hackers on the internet from getting access to your PC so it's always worth enabling it to help add an extra layer of security. However, it does nothing to stop people in range of your Wi-Fi signal from getting onto your network – and as said, a router in the wrong place means your Wi-Fi signal could reach pretty far.

For further protection, you should run software firewalls on the individual PCs on your networks.

Download updates

As attacks become more frequent and sophisticated, so does the software that manages your router. Router manufacturers regularly issue patches and new versions of the software that controls the router.

The easiest way to protect your network is to ensure you have the latest software updates installed. Although some push these directly to your router, it's still wise to check the manufacturer's website regularly to ensure your router is up to date.

Update your hardware

At the same time as making sure your software is up to date, it's wise to update the actual hardware every few years as technology advances. Don't let your old router let you down, replace it with a new, more sophisticated router that is designed to not only provide you with fast internet but also keep your network safe from intruders.

  • Eric Wang is UK Country Manager for TP-LINK UK Ltd and has been immersed in networking since 2007.