Keep It Secret, Keep It Safe: WiFi Security for Beginners
Every morning, you ask your digital assistant for the news and weather while you’re getting ready for work. From there, you check the traffic with your smartphone, strap on your smartwatch, set some mood music for your pet for the day, have your digital assistant set your home’s thermostat to “away” mode and head out to the garage. You open your smart garage door before you realize you forgot to turn on your security system — but that’s not a problem, you have an app for that.
All of this technology seems perfectly normal these days. Absolutely everyone has a WiFi network at home to feed all of these neat tools that we collectively call the Internet of Things (IoT). Unfortunately, not everyone has a very secure WiFi network, which opens up IoT devices, computers and the network itself to attacks by nefarious types who would use them for tasks you probably didn’t have in mind.
Before you catch Alexa trying to order a DIY rocket kit from Acme without your authorization, let’s go through some basics of WiFi security to keep your home network and IoT devices protected.
Types of WiFI Security
There are basically four types of security you’ll find in a wireless router, some are much better at protecting you and your devices than others. As with anything to do with technology, the more modern protocols are going to be better at protecting you than older ones, so if your router is more than a couple of years old it might be time to consider an upgrade. Check this list to see if it has an appropriately secure protocol available first, though:
WEP. Wired Equivalent Privacy is a protocol reaching back to 1999. It was essentially the first wireless security type, so if this is the only option you’ve got available on your router, get yourself to Best Buy. This router cannot deal with modern challenges, bottom line. You might as well not have any internet security.
WPA. WiFi Protected Access was created in 2003 as a response to the many problems with WEP. A new security standard known as Temporal Key Integrity Protocol was developed that was much stronger than the encryption used with WEP, but it still used a similar implementation, so was problematic.
WPA2. WPA2 is an upgrade to WPA that was introduced in 2004. This upgraded version of WPA switched to a security protocol based on the US Government’s preferred choice of encryption known as the Advanced Encryption Standard. WPA2 is still the gold standard for home WiFi security, though older computers may not be able to utilize it. If your system or router is rated for 802.11g or less, you should consider an upgrade.
WPS. WiFi Protected Setup was supposed to make adding a device to a WPA2 network easier by granting people in physical proximity to the router the ability to just push a button and enter an 8-digit PIN to connect. Unfortunately, a well-known hack has been developed and distributed widely in the recent past, turning WPS into a very vulnerable convenience.
As of the writing of this article, most experts recommend that your router be secured using WPA2 with WPS disabled. This combination will give you the most bang for your security buck, keeping as many problems at bay as is possible with WiFi security protocols alone.
More Ways to Secure Your Network
Using the right security protocol is just the first step to protecting your WiFi network. There are lots of practical ways to keep yourself safe, too. Here are a few of our favorites:
1. Change the name of your router. Your router came with a unique name called the Service Set Identifier (SSID). It might be random numbers and letters, or it might be something more readable like “Bob’s Network.” Your job is to name it something that doesn’t give away your location, but is also memorable so you know which network is yours. For example, if you’re a DC comic fan, you might name yours “SpiderLan.”
2. Also, change that router password. Never leave the default password on your router, especially if that password is blank! All anyone would need to do to access the settings is park close to your house and point their phone at it, then you’re in big trouble. Again, choose a password that’s secure, but memorable. Use numbers, letters and special characters. Short sentences can be good if you’ve got a poor memory, “N33d_M0ar_B33s!” is a surprisingly secure choice.
3. Remember to check for updates to your router’s software. Occasionally, your router’s manufacturer will push updates to the software that controls your hardware. Update this device as often as possible, it’ll give you the best security available.
4. Setup a secondary network. A lot of modern routers allow for a secondary network with a different SSID and password than the main network. This is a great way to give guests access to your network without compromising your data, as well as the ideal solution to IoT devices that may be less secure. When Alexa is on her own network, hackers can’t ask her how much money is in your bank account or where the nearest ATM for your bank is located.
5. Remember, no one is giving away free money. Last, but not least, remember that Nigerian princes and foreign lotteries just begging to give you cash are, sadly, just dreams we all wish were true. Get to know what scammy emails look like, never click on email attachments that seem a little weird and always ask yourself “Do I know this person and would they send me a thing like this?” You can lock your network down as hard as you want, but if you let a hacker in your front door, all your effort will be for nothing.
Secure Your WiFi Network to Protect Your Smart Home
There’s no feeling like knowing you’re doing all you can to keep your home safe. After all, you’d never post a giant sign saying “thieves, there’s money in here!” and then leave your front door unlocked. Your smart home is no different when it comes to digital criminals. There’s lots of valuable data to be had that could result in identity theft, or even old-fashioned theft, so the stakes are quite high.