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Massive Attack: One thing your router needs now to keep hackers out

Massive Attack: One thing your router needs now to keep hackers out
photo courtesy of shutterstock

There’s a gadget in your home that you would be lost without. You don’t give much thought to it until it stops working. Then you curse it, reboot it, and watch it spring back to life, or not.

It’s your lifeline to the internet, your router. It is an essential component in our internet-connected households and businesses. Much like our operating systems, software, and apps are constantly updated to thwart security threats, your router running 24/7 receives its share of updates too.

Unfortunately, router update notifications do not hit you over the head like other things. There is no red exclamation mark notifying you of an issue or message that pops up asking if you’d like to apply an update. By the way, router updates are called firmware because it is embedded into a piece of hardware.

This mini-computer that directs traffic over networks sits vulnerable unless you take action.

Consider what is connected to your network. You have your computer, tablet, phone, and television, for starters. Add to this the surge in internet-connected you-name-its from cameras, light bulbs, refrigerators, to even a Wi-Fi ready slow cooker that comes with an app.

Your family uses the network. Guests who come over do, too. (Speaking of security, not too many people know that you can share your Wi-Fi without giving guests your password. Click here to learn how.)

Hackers are continually looking for targets. Armed with just a few details that are readily available online, your personal files and devices are at risk. It only takes knowing a router’s IP address and administrative password to get on a network. A simple Google search is all it takes to find both for just about any router make and model.

With this information, an attacker can steal your files, peek through a webcam or worse. Once a router manufacturer learns of an exploit such as this, they release a firmware update.

However, there is more that an attacker can do tapping into an outdated router. They can start sniffing data that’s passing to and from the vulnerable router. They can record all of your online activity, including usernames and passwords, and even re-route your traffic to fake websites.

Routers can also be taken over to perform illegal activities like denial of service attacks or piracy. The scary part is you might not even know your router is compromised and being used for nefarious deeds.

Checking your router for new firmware to prevent exploits like these is a must. If you are not regularly updating your router, you’re ripe for attack.

Updating your router’s firmware is not as hard as it sounds. The procedure depends on your router, but you typically access an administrator page via a browser. Simply type the router’s default IP address of your particular router in your browser’s address bar.

Common IP addresses for popular routers are for Linksys and D-Link, for Netgear, or for Belkin. Should none of these addresses work for you, a free app can help.

Fing is a network tool that you should have in your tech arsenal even if you know your router’s IP address. Sure, you’ll learn your router’s IP address but you can also see all devices connected to your network, check your internet connectivity, monitor the network and detect intruders. Click here for more information and the links you need for both Apple and Android devices.

Once you're on the router’s administrator page in a browser, you will have to enter a username and password to log in. Remember when I said that passwords were readily available online? Click here for the link you need to find just about any router’s username and password.

Once logged in, find an area called "Advanced" or "Management" to check for firmware updates. Usually, you will have the option to check, review, download, and install your router's new firmware on the same page.

Network security is more than firmware updates. In this Komando Flash Tip video, you can see the steps necessary to secure your network in less than 60 seconds. Click here to watch now.

Router firmware updates require a restart so make sure you do not have ongoing activities that require a network connection when you apply the update. Make an appointment now in your calendar. You should check for router firmware updates at least once every three months.

Fortunately, some newer routers don’t require this human intervention for updates. The updates are applied automatically, helping to keep our files and digital lives safe from harm.

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