How to protect your router & Wi-Fi from identity thieves

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How to protect your router & Wi-Fi from identity thieves

The FBI is asking people to reboot their routers this week to thwart a massive malware attack linked to Russian hackers. Thing is, you might want to go beyond a single reset.

Routers are an increasingly popular target of would-be identity thieves and financial scammers. After all, they're responsible for linking all the devices in your home to the internet and collecting the data that runs in and out of it.

Why hackers love routers

If a hacker hijacks your router, they can harvest bank account credentials, tax returns, emails and other juicy login or personal information that could be sold and used to commit identity theft. They can also send you to scam websites, serve up fake ads, slow down your network or fry the device.

In spite of this laundry list of potential schemes, routers remain extra vulnerable to attack. People tend to play fast and loose with their Wi-Fi and the devices themselves aren't always built to withstand the latest and savviest attacks. That's why it's important to up your security game. Here are some ways to protect your router and Wi-Fi from cyberattacks.

1. Update your firmware

That's the program responsible for running your router. Manufacturers update their firmware frequently to patch security holes, but you usually have to manually implement these updates to protect your device. Your manufacturer's website should contain instructions — and a path — to update your router's firmware. You'll most likely have to type in the router's IP address and password.

2. Check back frequently for updates

You can do this by re-visiting the manufacturer website every few months or, possibly, through the company's mobile app.

3. Upgrade

Many new routers, like Google Wi-Fi, update their firmware automatically — or give you the option to set up these updates. They also may pair with a mobile app that'll make your life a little easier. If your router is particularly old, consider getting a new one.

4. Disable remote management settings

That's a feature that lets you or someone else control your computer from a remote location, as long as they have a username and password. You can generally shut it off via your router's administrator page in the settings section.

5. Position your router carefully

Put it in the middle of your home or the back of your house, depending on how close the neighbors are, says the Identity Theft Resource Center. That minimizes the area outside your home where your Wi-Fi network will show up as available.

6. Change your router's name & password

Routers usually come with default names and passwords. Be sure to change these when you first get a new device and update them every few months. Passwords should be long and strong with alphanumeric characters, but devoid of easily guessable information. (You can find a guide to creating strong passwords here.)

Apply that last part to your router's name as well. For instance, the Identity Theft Resource Center says to avoid using the family name for your network.

7. Change your Wi-Fi password

Your Wi-Fi password is generally different than your network password, so be sure to implement best password practices there, too. Update your credentials from time to time or after you have reason to believe your network was compromised.

Think your personal information has been hacked? We've got a crib sheet to surviving a big data breach here.

Image: Urupong