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Router reboot, updates, password are key to home network security

Posted August 27, 2018 4:15 p.m. EDT
Updated August 27, 2018 6:17 p.m. EDT

Cyber attacks are nonstop, and your home router is the way in for those who would hack your personal information. Passwords, bank and credit account numbers all flow through your router, which is why it makes sense to take steps to make it harder to hack.

"So if there's a breach, that's really bad," said Consumer Reports technology editor Tercius Bufete.

After a recent FBI warning about a sophisticated malware system linked to Russia that has infected hundreds of thousands of internet routers worldwide, Consumer Reports offers these suggestions for home network security.

First, it appears certain router brands are at risk. CISCO Talos, one of the largest commercial threat intelligence teams, said owners of certain brands need to take action:

  • Linksys
  • MikroTik
  • Netgear
  • QNAP
  • TP-Link

If you have one of these, experts say reboot it!

Router reset process varies by brand

Many routers have a button you can press for several seconds to reset. You may need a paper clip to do it. Router makers intentionally make it a bit tricky to avoid accidental resets.

Others require users to log in to the router settings, which will also allow you to update the software. Newer models make this relatively easy through a mobile app.

If your router doesn't have an associated app, you'll need to open a web browser and type in the device's IP address – a series of four sets of number separated by periods that identifies your router on the internet. The IP address varies by brand, as do the instructions for downloading and installing router software. The quickest way is to search online for customer support and the name of your router model.

Simply turning an infected router off and on again won't work. That only removes some of the malware. Experts also said users should set up and take advantage of automatic updates, if they're offered by your router.

"Unlike a laptop or a smartphone, most older routers don't notify you if there's an update available," Bufete said. "It's really up to you to check, every three or four months, whether there's an update available on your manufacturer's website."

If that seems like too much of a hassle, replace your old router with a new one that updates automatically. Routers from Netgear, Eero, Google and Linksys all offer an option to take care of updates for you. A router with the latest updates is less vulnerable to that destructive malware.

Finally, a strong password is the first line of defense. Use a string of at least 12 characters including numbers and symbols that is familiar only to you.