#BeCyberSmart: Tips for Securing Your Home Network & Devices

It goes without saying, but our lives have undergone significant changes this year because of COVID-19. For many, one of those changes is the increased amount time that we spend at home. Whether it is working from home, virtual instruction, streaming videos, playing games, or virtual meetups, we are increasingly reliant upon our home’s wireless network and devices. This means it is more important than ever to regularly check and evaluate the security of our home devices and network to ensure that you and your family can use the internet more safely and securely. So, what can we do to better secure our home network and devices?

Before we get to the tips, please note that the exact steps that you will take to make these changes are specific to your wireless router and devices. To make changes to your wireless network, you will need to login to your wireless router, so please refer to your router’s User Manual or User Guide to determine how to do so – a web search of the router’s manufacturer and model number can often lead you to the manufacturer’s web site with those instructions.

With that in mind, below are some general tips that you can use to better secure your home network and devices:

  • Change the name of your router: Your router’s manufacturer assigns your router a default ID – either called a “service set identifier” (SSID) or an “extended service set identifier” (ESSID). If you look at the back or underside of your router, you may see a label that shows that initial name. You should change your router to a name that is unique to you and will not be easily guessed by others.
  • Change the preset password on your router: Leaving a default password unchanged makes it much easier for malicious individuals to access your network - this default information is easily found through a web search! You should change it as soon as possible and use a passphrase. A strong passphrase is a sentence that is at least 14 characters long. Focus on positive sentences or phrases that you like to think about and are easy to remember (for example, “I-Like-Hiking!”) On many sites, you can even use spaces.
  • Review your router’s security options: The acronyms WEP, WPA, and WPA2 refer to different wireless encryption protocols that are intended to protect the information you send and receive over a wireless network. When choosing your router’s level of security, select WPA2, if it is available. If not, select WPA. Both WPA2 and WPA are much more secure than the WEP option – WEP has been found to have serious security weaknesses.
  • Consider creating a guest network: Some routers allow for guests to use networks via separate guest passphrases. If you have many visitors to your home, it is a good idea to set up a guest network.
  • Use a firewall: Firewalls help keep malicious individuals from using your devices to send out your personal information without your permission. While antivirus software scans incoming email and files, a firewall is like a shield, observing attempts to access your system and blocking communications with sources you don’t permit. Your operating system and/or security software likely comes with a pre-installed firewall, but make sure you turn on these features.
  • Double you login protection. Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) to ensure that the only person who has access to your accounts is you. Whenever offered, you should use it for your email, banking, social media, and any other service that requires logging in. If MFA is an option, enable it by using a trusted mobile device such as your smartphone, an authenticator app, or a secure token—a small physical device that can hook onto your key ring.
  • If you connect it, protect it! If you are putting something into your device, such as a USB for an external hard drive, make sure your device’s security software scans for viruses and malware. Also, protect your devices with antivirus software and be sure to periodically back up any data that cannot be recreated such as photos or personal documents.
  • Keep each of your device’s operating systems, web browsers, and other software up to date. New updates often fix vulnerabilities that could be exploited to malicious individuals. If you have the option to enable automatic updates to defend against the latest risks, turn it on.
  • Be on the lookout for phishing attempts. As a result of COVID-19, there has been in increase in phishing attempts by malicious individuals who take advantage of such stressful times. These attacks can occur via email, phone calls, and even text messages. For more specific information on COVID-19 phishing attempts, please refer to a previous The Pulse article, “Defending Against COVID-19 Cyber Scams.”
  • Protect your finances: When banking and shopping, check to be sure the sites is security enabled. Look for web addresses with “https://,” which means the site takes extra measures to help secure your information. “http://” is not secure.
  • Keep tabs on your apps. Most connected appliances, toys, and devices are supported by a mobile application. Your mobile device could be filled with suspicious apps running in the background or using default permissions you never realized you approved—gathering your personal information without your knowledge while also putting your identity and privacy at risk. Check your app permissions and use the “rule of least privilege” to delete what you do not need or no longer use. Learn to just say “no” to privilege requests that do not make sense. Does the application really need access to your email settings, camera, location, and/or photos?  Only download apps from trusted vendors and sources.

-Submitted by Jonathan Wagner

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