We’ve been concentrating on how adding new digital devices to your home network has the potential of introducing vulnerabilities into your home network, both for data security and the physical security of your property. However, it’s also worth looking at some of the older equipment that has to go from providing broadband to a couple of computers and phones to supplying data to dozens of different devices, all trying to talk to one another at the same time.
Your home router is essentially the brain and beating heart of your system, an yet it’s quite possible that you’ve not even looked at it since you last changed your internet provider. It’s true, as far as digital technology is concerned, a small box that just sits there with one or two flickering lights is hardly the most exciting piece of equipment, and it only draws attention when it stops working or you need to find it for the sticker with the wireless password printed on it.
However, it’s an absolute waste of time and effort to go securing all your new digital devices with descriptive yet innocuous names and strong passwords when your router is more or less open to anyone passing with a phone or tablet.
There are many reasons why you might like to consider investing in a new router, some obvious, some not so much.
With any other service, nobody would expect to get the best bit of kit alongside it for free, and yet we’re usually willing to accept whichever router it is our ISP decides to ship when we sign up. Maybe we assume that a router is just a conduit for signal, or that it’s not possible to shop around for better routers. But neither of these two ideas is true.
In reality there is a great difference in the quality of products to choose from when buying a router. Features to consider would include speed. You may have incredible processing speed available, but if the router isn’t up to the job you’ll not receive what is possible. Next would be the strength of signal the new router can deliver. The free one you get might be strong enough to give wifi in the next room or upstairs from the room where it lives, but a premium unit will easily be able to give a strong signal throughout the house, without blind spots.
The biggest worry is personal data and financial details being accessed. Credential stuffing is a way of gaining access to a variety of accounts by invading one, and then using the details you have stored to replicate the attack on a variety of other accounts you may hold. Based on the assumption that most people only use one or two passwords to protect all of their online activity, simply gathering details on something as innocuous as your Spotify or YouTube (because who cares if someone hacks your music of video channels, right?) account could compromise your entire online and home security.
New routers also come with security firmware built in. The one your internet service provider gives you when you sign up is likely to be from older stock which doesn’t have sufficient security firmware which you would want when you’re connecting a broad range of IoT enabled devices. The software you get with a premium router will protect you from malware, spyware, trojan horse and viruses. This not only protects the information about yourself, your payment methods and credit details, but also prevents your devices from being hijacked and used in cyber-attacks. A lot of software is already available for you to download, but very few people ever consider the fact that their router could use a regular security audit too.
Don’t just clean off viruses, take care of the dirt too! You’ll be amazed at the amount of ‘heat stress’ dust and muck can cause to your computer equipment, and how much can collect over a relatively short space of time. When dust clogs the vents and coats the silicone chips and connections it all increases the temperature that the device operates at, and while you might not think a few degrees more or less will have much effect, it can have an appreciable effect not only on the speed your router processes data, but on the operating life too. Keep it clean and cool and you could add years to its usefulness.
Criminals have identified that people’s attention to security drops off a cliff when it comes to older devices. We introduce a new item, we secure it, take care to keep antivirus up to date until the next round of new devices comes along and we forget about legacy devices. However, if that legacy device is your router it affords the criminal the opportunity to use any holes, expired security, and default passwords which were never changed to access your system.
Your shipped product is unlikely to be tri-band too. Dual-band routers are standard and operate on a 5GHz and a 2.4GHz channel while tri-band routers use two 5GHz channels plus the 2.4GHz. While that just seems like a lot of GHz what it actually means is that because a router works as a simultaneous transmitter and receiver, having an additional channel means that it can send out twice as much 5GHz information without interruption and keeps all your devices running smoothly. This is particularly important when you’re living in a connected home where the Internet of Things rules. If you’re rolling on an ancient router which came free or you rent from the ISP as part of your subscription, it’s unlikely to be able to cope with the demand put upon it by possibly dozens of new devices all demanding space on your broadband.
While we’ve been talking about the wireless capability of your router, it’s worth bearing in mind that there are LAN and USB ports in the back of your router. The point of WiFi is that you don’t have cables stretching all over your home when you connect to the internet, but the terminals on the back of your router can be really handy. If you have devices which require uninterrupted, clear signal and the device, such as a Smart TV or desktop computer, won’t be moved it’s worth using a cable to connect them. Not only does that mean you’ll get the best data when you’re streaming or downloading, you’ll be freeing up wireless bandwidth for items which need to be cable free.
- Pick a router with the best speed and strength of signal
- Choose one which has Tri-band if you’re expecting to us a lot of connected devices
- Make use of the cable terminals in the back of the machine
- Ensure that it’s clean, both of malware and dust
- Always change the name of your wifi network and apply strong, complex passwords to all the devices you connect