Do you have a wireless router in your home? If you do, is it password-protected?
Just like you wouldn’t let a stranger use your email account or borrow your driver’s license, you shouldn’t leave your home wi-fi unprotected. Keep reading to find out why … and how you can keep your wireless connection private.
Why does it matter?
There are three main reasons to keep your wireless router protected by a password.
- It saves your bandwidth. If your router is unprotected, anyone within range can use your internet connection and hog your bandwidth, making your internet connection much slower. If you live in a town, you could easily have a dozen neighbors within range of your wireless signal — plus anyone who happens to be driving or walking by. That’s a lot of potential for people to leech off of the internet connection that you’re paying for.
- To the rest of the internet, anyone using your wi-fi looks like you. Every internet user has a unique address, known as an IP address, that can be used to identify them. Anyone who connects to the internet using your router will have the same IP address as you — which means that if they do anything illicit or illegal, it will look like you’re the one responsible. People who plan to commit crimes online have been known to seek out unsecured wi-fi connections to cover their tracks, so leaving your router unsecured puts you at risk of being blamed for something you didn’t do.
- An unsecured router gives hackers one more weakness to exploit. Just leaving your router unprotected generally isn’t enough to give the average passerby access to your computer, but it is a vulnerability that a smart hacker can find a way to use — and you don’t want to give identity thieves any more opportunities than they already have.
How do I tell if my Wi-Fi is unsecured?
When you go to connect your computer or smartphone to your home’s wi-fi, you’ll see a list of available networks. If a picture of a lock appears next to your home network’s name, it has a password set. If there’s no lock, it’s open and anyone can access it.
How do I set my password?
This varies depending on what kind of router you have, but the owner’s manuals for some of the most common wireless routers can be found on the D&P Communications Help Guides page. If you don’t see your router listed, and you can’t find your owner’s manual, don’t worry — you will almost certainly be able to find a downloadable owner’s manual for your router by typing its name (such as “Linksys E1200”) into Google.
What else can I do?
Setting a password isn’t the only way to make your home wi-fi network more secure. If your network’s name includes the brand name of your router — such as Linksys or Netgear — change it to something else. Knowing what kind of router you’re using gives would-be hackers one more tool to use against you.
Another option, if you only use a few devices (such as computers or smartphones) to connect to the internet and you don’t plan to use anything else in the near future, is to program your router to only accept connections from those specific devices. Every device has a unique identifier known as a MAC address, and you can set your router to only accept connections from MAC addresses it “knows.” This adds a layer of security, but also can be inconvenient, because if you buy a new computer or phone, bring a laptop home from work, or have a guest who needs to use your network, your router’s settings will need to be changed before you can connect any new device.
Finally, make sure your password is something hard to guess. Passwords like “admin,” “password,” “qwerty,” and “123456” are among the first things a hacker will try if they’re trying to gain unauthorized access to your network. Using your children’s names or your high school mascot is also a bad idea. Pick something that’s easy for you to remember, but hard for anyone else to figure out based on readily available information about you.