Criminals love home Wi-Fi networks. When left open, unsecured and not protected by strong passwords, hackers can attack your gadgets and steal your information. They can upload or download illegal files and they can generally do whatever criminal activity they want.
Here's the hacker's icing on the cake: When law enforcement traces the illegal activity, you - the router's owner - are left being held responsible. That's exactly what happened to a man in Camden, New Jersey.
On September 1, New Jersey police officers conducted a raid looking for a computer that recently downloaded and shared child pornography.
When police viewed the couple's computer, it came up clean.
Unfortunately, it turns out a hacker named Louis LaSalle was able to jump on to the couple's unsecured Wi-Fi network and send out more than 700 videos and more than 33,000 images.
Make sure something like this doesn't happen to you.
LOG IN TO YOUR ROUTER
Every router has the same general steps for logging in. However, each one requires different information to do it. You'll want to have your router's manual on hand to find out the specifics for your router.
To start, open your web browser and type in your router's IP address. It varies by router, so you'll need to find that in the manual. Next, a box will pop up asking for your username and password, which you'll also find in the manual.
If you changed your router password in the past and can't remember it, you'll need to check your manual for instructions on resetting your router to its factory settings.
TURN ON ENCRYPTION
Once you're logged in, it's time to secure your network with encryption. Turning on encryption means no one can log in to your network without the password.
Every router has a different menu layout, but you should be able to find the encryption under the "Wireless" or "Security" menu.
You'll have a number of encryption options, but you'll want to select one that starts with "WPA2." However, "WPA2-PSK AES" is the newest and most secure. If you have older Wi-Fi gadgets, you might have to select the hybrid option "WPA2-PSK AES + WPA-PSK TKIP" to get them working.
If the only encryption options your router has are WEP or WPA, tell your router to check for a firmware update. If there's no firmware update on your router updates but you're still stuck with WPA or WEP, it's time to buy a new router. These encryption methods are too unsafe to use, plus it means your router is probably more than seven years old.
To finish setting up your encryption, you'll need to put in a password. Make sure this is different from your router's login password. Click here for solid password advice.
UPDATE YOUR GADGETS
Once you've enabled encryption and network name, any wireless gadgets you had connected will be kicked offline.
To get a laptop back online, go to Control Panel >> Network And Sharing Center >> Connect to a Network. Find your router's new SSID, enter the new password and connect.
For a smartphone or tablet, go to your Wi-Fi settings and select your network SSID from the list of available networks. Then enter your new password and connect.
For other gadgets like smart TVs, streaming video boxes and game consoles, they should walk you through reconnecting to your gadget. If they don't, you'll need to check their manuals to learn how to update your Wi-Fi settings.