So you have a home network but it’s open wider that a barn’s double doors and you’re worried that someone might wander in and plunder all your files, photos, financial information and anything else hosted on your network. That’s… pretty sensible.
Fortunately there are a few things that you can do to minimise the chances that some random internet stranger will start rifling through your files. And you start by:
Changing the default information on your router
First things first, change the default username and password on your router. Most usernames/password sets are set to Admin/admin or Admin/password when they come out of the factory, with the expectation that they will be changed as soon as you boot them up. Change them. Don’t just make a second account and leave the default details in case you forget your own. If you can break into your own network, someone else definitely can.
Also change the default broadcast ID (SSID) of your network hardware, especially if it broadcasts the manufacturer name and model number (“Netis WF2681 Beacon” for example). Knowing the make and model just makes it easier for an intruder to break in to your network. Broadcast something like “Home Network” or “Internet Funbox” or “George WPA Bush” – just don’t make the SSID anything related to your username and password.
Yes, you do need encryption
Speaking of passwords, enable passwords on your network. And not unencrypted passwords either, those can be easily forced. You’re going to want to use WPA2 and set the encryption to AES before choosing the password that devices will need to get into the network. That should cut down on the number of unwanted intruders on your home system substantially. Activate the router’s firewall too, if that’s not on by default. Activate the Windows firewall as well. Two firewalls are better than one.
Even for guest networks
Of course this does no good if you have an unsecured network for guests set up on your router. Yes, it’s nice to have but you’re building a fort and then forgetting to install a front door. If you must have a guest network (you don’t want them snooping on your personal files, for instance) then also select encryption options. And then hand out little slips of paper with the password on as friends arrive. It’ll be fun, promise.
Firmware and updates are your friend
Firmware updates, when they come from the official manufacturer’s website, should be installed as soon as possible. Sometimes firmware adds new features and even tweaks the possible speeds of your network hardware but just as often it closes security loopholes that have been discovered. Several high-profile hacks in the past few years took place because firmware was not updated and security updates were not applied. You might not be an international bank but taking the simple step of keeping your software and hardware up to date will keep you from ending up like them.
It’s even possible to install completely custom firmware for your networking gear but that way lies bricked computer hardware. Let’s put it this way: If you don’t know exactly how much of a silly idea installing custom firmware is, you’re probably not qualified in install it.