Secure your home WiFi in 3 simple steps 

Updated February 18, 2021; previously published July 31, 2020

By Kirsten Queen

Thanks to WiFi, we’re more connected than ever before. Entire households run on wireless internet, including smartphones, laptop computers, thermostats, gaming systems, and more. While using WiFi to power our devices can make life easier (and more mobile), this type of internet connection can also open us up to online threats. 

How WiFi works

An internet connection comes into your home over wires, which can be either copper or fiber-optic cables that connect to your modem. The internet signal is then broadcasted via radio waves from a router to any wireless device in range. Most modems today have the router built in.

What’s the difference between a router and a modem?

Many people use these two terms somewhat interchangeably. A wireless router is the equipment that transmits your internet connection to a WiFi signal that you can use throughout your home. A modem delivers the internet connection from the provider’s network to your home. These days most modems often have the router built in. At CenturyLink, our modem/router combo is officially called a residential gateway. But you’ll notice we frequently refer to it as a router and occasionally as a modem, the terms preferred by most users.

Wireless connections can be set up in two ways: secure and unsecured. Secure WiFi connections are protected by passwords. A router password allows you to access the settings for your router, while a WiFi password allows you to access your network. Most CenturyLink modems are set up with wireless security turned on by default. This means that when you try to connect your device to the wireless network, you'll be prompted to provide a network password. A connection that is not secure means just that—anyone can connect to it. You might have seen this type of connection in public spaces, like coffee shops or libraries.

Despite built-in security features, many people leave the default settings on routers, modems, and networks as they are. Consumer Reports found that 62% of people never change the admin password for their router. That information is commonly found in user manuals or is the same across brands and models, making it easy for other people to get access and interfere with your router, changing your settings or locking you out of your own router. Even when people do set a unique password, it is often weak, and they forget to change it regularly, leaving their network vulnerable to hackers.

An unprotected network can compromise your photos and data, as well as your personal and financial information. Though you may only give out your password to family members or visiting guests, you may still end up with some uninvited visitors on your connection. 

Do you know who is on your connection?

If your network isn’t secure, you may not know who else is accessing your connection. Your neighbors might even be borrowing your WiFi to access the internet to stream content and surf the internet. It might not seem like a big deal to let your neighbors borrow your WiFi, but it can be. If they can access it, strangers on the street might be able to as well.

While neighbors might not have any interest in your electronic files and information, a stranger might take advantage and access your private information. A hacker can snag your sensitive information by using a man-in-the-middle attack, deploying tools that allow them to intercept any data you’re transmitting, scanning your emails for passwords, downloading unlawful content, or using your computer to distribute spam, spyware, or viruses. Not only could you be held responsible for any malware that originates from your network, but someone could steal your identity, skim from your bank accounts, or even take your family photos.

Network hacking is a serious risk that can be remedied with just 3 steps. Here’s how to secure your home WiFi:

1.  Rename your network

Every device that broadcasts a wireless connection has a network SSID, or “service set identifier.” This is just a fancy way of saying “network name.” These names are usually preset and generic, which makes it easy for hackers to find and target them. You should update your network name to something unique. You can have some fun by choosing a personalized name — as long as it doesn’t reveal your family’s identity. Be sure your new network name doesn’t contain any clues for your password, either. 

For step-by-step instuctions on how to change your network name, click here

2.  Set strong passwords

To secure your WiFi network from parasitic neighbors and anyone else, start by turning on your router’s encryption and setting a custom password. You should set your security type to WPA2, which requires every new device to enter a password to connect.

Then, you’ll need to create a strong password. The best passwords are lengthy, random combinations of letters, numbers, and symbols. Write down your wireless network password and tape it to the bottom of your router or put it in another easily accessible but secure place. You should also change your router’s password from the default. Make sure it is not the same as your new WiFi password!

For step-by-step instructions on how to change your WiFi password, click here

3.  Raise a firewall

A firewall is a hardware or software network security system that blocks out certain kinds of data from coming in or out of your wireless network. Your router likely came with one already installed, but it may be turned off by default when you set it up. To set up your firewall, consult the manual for your router for instructions. You’ll sleep better at night knowing your personal data, files, financial information, and photos are secure behind your own private firewall.

For step-by-step instructions on how to set up a firewall, click here

What else can you do?

Keeping your connections safe and secure is a worthwhile investment of your time. Here are a few additional steps you can take to protect your network:

Regularly update your router’s firmware to protect against any vulnerabilities. Follow the steps here to update through your router’s settings interface. 

Set up a guest network for visiting friends that need to use the internet. This will get them online without giving access to your main network, which protects you from any infected devices. 

For step-by-step instructions on how to set up a guest network, click here

If you are concerned about WPS security, you can disable the WPS button function on your router.

For step-by-step instructions on how to disable WPS, click here

And finally, brush up on other tips for internet security.

With a little extra effort, you can be sure your network isn’t spreading malware to other machines around the globe, your keystrokes aren’t being logged, and that your information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. 

This blog is provided for informational purposes only and may require additional research and substantiation by the end user. In addition, the information is provided "as is" without any warranty or condition of any kind, either express or implied. Use of this information is at the end user's own risk. CenturyLink does not warrant that the information will meet the end user's requirements or that the implementation or usage of this information will result in the desired outcome of the end user.


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