I've said it before, but I'm going to say it again: Criminals love open home Wi-Fi networks.
They can attack your gadgets and steal your information; they can download - or upload - illegal files, and they can generally do whatever criminal activity they want. When law enforcement traces their activity, you - the router's owner - are left holding the bag.
Even if criminals don't target your Wi-Fi, what about your neighbors? They might be surfing the internet on your dime, and all you get out of it is slower internet speeds. Click here to find out if your neighbors are stealing your internet.
You really don't want either thing to happen. Fortunately, it's easy enough to keep people off your network. In fact, it only takes a few minutes.
I'll walk you through every step of the process to make sure you don't leave any hole open for someone to sneak through.
Note: These steps aren't just for setting up a new router, either. I encourage everyone to go through this process step by step to make sure your router is locked down.
Thinking ahead: You will want to print out this Tip. Turning on your router's encryption will knock your gadgets offline temporarily. I'd hate for you to get stuck without the next step! To print, click the View All button and then print normally from your browser.
Log in to your router
Every router has the same general steps for logging in. However, each one uses slightly different information to do it. You'll want to have your router's manual on hand to find out its specifics.
Handy hint: If you don't have your manual anymore, you can check your manufacturer's site. Or visit this site that has thousands of manuals you can download.
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. For many Netgear routers, for example, it's 192.168.0.1.
A box will pop up asking for your username and password, which you'll also find in the manual.
Security alert: If you're still using the router's default password, you need to change that immediately. Any hacker worth their salt knows the default passwords for all the major routers.
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 into your network without the password.
Every router has a different menu layout, but you should be able to find encryption under the "Wireless" or "Security" menu.
You'll have a number of encryption options, but you want to select one that starts with "WPA2."
"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. Look in your manual for the instructions.
If there's no firmware update or 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.
Learn what features you need in a new router with my router buying guide.
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. The longer you can make this password, the safer your network will be. Click here to learn how to make strong passwords.
Update your gadgets
Whenever you make changes to your Wi-Fi network, there is a chance that your gadgets could 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.
Security tip: Did you know that criminals can also piggyback your network to spy on you using your own webcams? This is why we recommend cameras with built-in physical privacy shutters like Simplisafe's security cameras. With these types of shutters, you can block the lens completely whenever you need your privacy.
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.
If you have a desktop connected to your router with an Ethernet cable, these changes won't affect it. You can also connect a laptop to your router with a cable to change the settings if something goes wrong and you can't reconnect to the router wirelessly.
For other gadgets like smart TVs, streaming video boxes and game consoles, their manuals should walk you through updating your Wi-Fi settings process.
Some routers and gadgets have WPS, or Wi-Fi Protected Setup. That means you just need to push the WPS button on the router and the WPS button on the gadget at nearly the same time. They'll do the setup for you.