Your router acts as a security gateway into your home, and all the computers, phones, and smart devices you've got hooked up to the web — so you want to make absolutely sure nothing is getting past its defences.
Think of your router like a border crossing, checking the credentials of everything leaving your home network and everything coming in. Follow the tips below to make sure your router guard stays alert and continues to do an effective job.
Router security basics
As you'll know if you've had guests round who can't get connected, your router's password is the key to gaining access to the web at your house, as well as access to everything else connected to the same router — including your smart home devices.
Essential reading: Smart home security – should you be worried?
Your neighbours probably aren't planning to launch a spambot network from your connected smart speakers, but nevertheless it's best to be safe rather than sorry. Make sure your router is protected by a long password (it should have one in place out of the box) and change it regularly to keep unwelcome visitors off the network.
To do this, you'll need to delve into your router's settings: check the instruction manual that came with it or run a quick web search on your router model for details, but typically you'll need to enter the router's IP address (like 192.168.0.1) into your browser's address bar and log on from there.
The username and password you use to access the router's settings will be different to the password you use to access the web — again these login details should be listed in your router's manual. It's a good idea to change these credentials from their factory defaults, just in case someone else should try to log into your router's settings.
Once you're connected to your router's control panel in your browser, you can set about beefing up security and changing the wireless password. The location of the menu and setting you need will vary depending on the model of your router, but it shouldn't be hard to find, and help is always available on the web.
The type of wireless security you need to enable is WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access II), which is the strongest around right now. Your router should be using this encryption protocol by default, but if it's set to WEP or even broadcasting an open network (with no password), change it over to WPA2 as soon as you can.
Advanced router security tips
One of the best ways to keep your router (and the devices behind it) safe and secure is to ensure any firmware updates are applied: the software running on the router itself. Doing this squashes bugs, patches security holes, and generally keeps bad actors off your network. Head to your router manufacturer's website to look for any available updates — here for D-Link, and here for Netgear, for example.
The good news is that many modern routers can now update themselves, and security updates should be pushed without you having to do anything. On other routers, the option to check for and update the router's firmware might be in the settings screens.
Some routers include a remote access option to make it easier to connect to your home network while you're away. If this option is available in your router settings, but you don't think you'll need it, turn it off – it's not inherently dangerous but it does give remote hackers a bigger target to aim at.
Another option you might want to disable, if it's displayed in your router's settings, is UPnP (Universal Plug and Play). While this makes it easier to connect up devices to your home network, it also makes your network slightly more vulnerable to attack – it really depends how it's been set up and how many other security measures you have installed elsewhere on your network.
UPnP is traditionally used to simplify the process of online gaming or making video calls across the internet, so if you disable it you might encounter problems with some of these activities (or have a harder job trying to configure the relevant settings). If you tend to stick to basic web browsing and streaming through, consider turning UPnP off just to keep your network that little bit more locked down.
With a lot of these types of settings, it depends how well your Internet Service Provider or router manufacturer has implemented the technology, and the safeguards your router has come with from the factory. It's a good idea to keep an eye on news updates from your ISP so you know if there are any additional steps you need to be taking.
Issues to watch out for
It may sound like a passing of the security buck when say a lot of router security is controlled by factors outside the router, but it's true — if your router has been hacked in some way, it's likely because malware got on to one of your attached devices, rather than being down to any security problem with the router itself.
With that in mind, keep your computers, phones, tablets, and smart home devices updated with the latest software wherever possible, and make sure your laptop and desktop machines in particular are well-protected with security software.
Most routers will be able to show you which devices are connected to your router, so you can check for anything suspicious and even kick devices off the network. Look for a menu item called "attached devices" or "my devices" somewhere in your router settings — it will vary depending on your router model.
Google Home speakers, for example, will be listed as "Google-Home"; Amazon Echo speakers will be listed as "amazon-" followed by a mix of letters and digits. If you're not sure what is what, change your Wi-Fi password and reconnect your devices one by one, noting the device names as you go.
There are a number of online router tests you can run through just to make sure your internet gateway is correctly and securely set up —they won't catch everything, but they can flag up certain issues you might otherwise be unaware of. Point your browser towards ShieldsUp, Router Checker, and Speed Guide Security Scan to see if any problems are detected. You'll then be given some tips on how to fix them.
Keeping your router well guarded is just one part of protecting your smart home from hackers and other unwelcome visitors, but by taking a few simple steps, you can make sure you're minimising the risk of running into issues.