(UPDATE) Did you know the little piece of equipment that connects everything in your home to the Internet — your router — is both a productivity and security device? And that recent study found a whopping 83% of household routers had vulnerabilities? And that the FBI warned that Russian hackers had infiltrated U.S. home networks through routers?
Here’s what you need to know and do:
Your router is responsible for the strength of your WiFi signal, sure, but it’s also a firewall that protects your connected devices from malware and hackers. Last year, the FBI said that Russians hacked hundreds of thousands of routers and scanning research found that of the 186 sampled routers, 155 (83%) were found to have vulnerabilities to potential cyber attacks. What are the odds that yours was one of them?
Some routers update firmware automatically but if yours doesn’t, you need to manually update the firmware to keep the bad guys out. If you got your router directly from your Internet service providers (AT&T, Comcast Xfinity, or Verizon, for example), the firmware (think “operating system”) probably updates automatically — that’s one of the benefits you get with the higher price or monthly fee. But check with your service provider to make sure. If you bought it yourself, it’s time to update your firmware.
Getting the latest firmware
- Find the product name and model number on the router.
- Go to the manufacturer’s website and navigate to the downloads section — here are links to four of the most popular router brands — Netgear, Asus (also has an app), D-Link, and Apple.
- Check the date on the most recent firmware for your model. If it’s after you bought the router, then download the update and follow the instructions.
- Do this annually.
Getting a new router instead
If your devices are new but your router is old, your network could be at risk and you’re probably sacrificing some functionality, too. Newer routers have better security, antennas and ranges, and improved technology that reduces interference. Just make sure the firmware is up to date. A lot of people forget to update their routers when they update their computers.
Getting third-party firmware (not recommended)
For many router models, you don’t have to stick with your router manufacturer’s firmware — you can get third-party firmware that’s advertised to boost your WiFi signal, give you more control and add functionality. Beware, however. The manufacturer has its reputation on the line for its ability to close vulnerabilities. Open source firmware may be insecure or unstable, may not be updated regularly, and may even contain malware or spyware — some of the exact problems you’re trying to avoid.
Getting in the update habit
Put annual updates on your calendar. Still, even highly reputable manufacturers can have router firmware bugs. Plus new threats and newly discovered vulnerabilities come up all the time. Pay attention to any warnings you get from the manufacturer (make sure to register your product) so you can download and install a patched version before your next scheduled update if needed.
And if the FBI sends out another warning, that’s a good reason to update, too! Keeping your router firmware up-to-date keeps your network and devices safer, and your computing hopping along.
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