Similar to how we protect our homes against everyday dangers, it’s important to take care of our digital identity with similar rigor. Because when we ignore important digital housekeeping habits, our connectivity and online safety can be put in harm’s way.
The easiest way to protect your personal data, financials, and home network is to stay aware of what’s going on. It can be as simple as asking yourself if you’re using a protected WiFi network, or as complicated as updating your firmware, helping prevent your devices from playing a role in a massive cyber-attack that may affect the websites you love.
Taking small precautionary steps keeps you and the Internet safer and also offers benefits from additional features. To avoid these security risks, consider the following steps to properly protect your devices.
Set up a Personal Password
I come bearing good news – there is an easy fix to this issue! If you still have your router’s instruction manual, it will provide the router’s login information, which you can access through your Web browser with a default username and password. With a few clicks, you can set up a new password for the administrative portion of your router.
If you don’t have your instruction manual, look for the information on the bottom of the router. If those options are not available to you, search for the manufacturer and model number on the manufacturer’s site. It’s important to have a personal password into your router because without it, a person can figure out what brand of router you own, then access it with the original shared password. This misstep opens an opportunity for someone to not only see your WiFi password but also lock you out of your own router!
While you’re in the administrative portion of your router, you’ll want to check two other items to ensure that you’re maximizing your safety while keeping your devices usable.
Protect Your Network
The first would be to double check that you have WiFi security turned on to at least WPA2-PSK [AES], which means that a password is required to get onto your network. This protection will help prevent unauthorized passersby from using your wireless connection. If you’re feeling particularly generous and a little nerdy, you can even set up a guest network. This network prevents you from having to share your password with guests.
After you set and activate a new router password, remember to update your access password on all your connected devices. Although I recognize this can be tedious, it’s as important as locking your doors at night. In the same way you’d not like to have someone walking into your home, sleeping in your bed, and eating from your fridge, you likely also don’t want someone using the WiFi connection you pay for every month. The consequence of others using your wireless network can be as simple as additional buffering when trying to watch your favorite movie, or could open you up to legal action if the person “borrowing” your WiFi is downloading stolen and copyrighted music, movies, and software.
Remember how I mentioned that you can play a role in preventing large parts of the Internet from becoming unavailable due to a massive cyber-attack?
Update Your Firmware
In October 2016 cyber-attacks left large portions of the Internet unavailable, with many of the world’s favorite sites completely inaccessible due to outdated firmware on Internet-connected devices. So, here’s the next step you can take to make future outages more difficult for hackers. While you’re in your router, look for a section called “firmware.” Firmware is a specialized piece of software inside the hardware that tells a device how to work in the most basic form.
Keeping your firmware up-to-date helps reduce the likelihood of devices being taken over remotely. When you update firmware on your Internet-connected devices, it ensures that you’ve received the latest security updates from the manufacturer. That’s important because Internet bad guys look for devices with outdated security measures. When they discover a flaw, they look for opportunities to exploit these flaws to their benefit. This includes knocking parts of the Internet offline by turning your devices into their personal army to attack websites on their behalf. You can fight back with small defensive measures! Follow the onscreen instructions for your router’s firmware update. Some will do the download, installation, and reboot with one click, while others may require a few more steps. Although the term “firmware” sounds particularly nerdy, following these short and quick instructions for your router is invaluable. It will likely take less than five minutes from start to finish. Upgradeable firmware also exists in your other smart devices, including plugs, televisions, cameras, and light bulbs. For these devices, use their apps to check for updates.
Implementing good passwords for your router, your wireless network, and upgrading the firmware on your router and other smart home devices can mean peace of mind for you and your network. Even though a strong password is encouraged, even a simple password means increased security and frustration for someone trying to access it.
The moral of the story is to make sure you understand what the risks are every time you go online, and be sure to protect yourself and your technology accordingly.
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