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How to secure your home Wi-Fi network in 7 steps

When securing home Wi-Fi, update devices regularly, change passwords consistently and consider splitting your WLAN into two segments: one for work and one for play.

Over the past couple of decades, home wireless networking has undergone quite the transformation. Most of the changes have been for the better. Hardware quality and security awareness, for example, have both improved.

While the days of war driving and finding most networks open to exploit may be behind us, home Wi-Fi security could still go awry in many places. If you're wondering how to secure your home Wi-Fi network, follow these seven recommendations.

1. Update the ecosystem routinely

Recognize that all your network bits and pieces need care and feeding. Wireless routers, laptops, mobile devices, printers and anything else on the network should be kept up to date. Firmware, drivers and apps all develop security weaknesses over time. Keep them up to date, especially for devices that may leave your network when you travel. Don't be afraid to get to know your settings.

2. Use an obscure SSID

For home networks, don't use your last name or any other easy identifiers in your service set identifier (SSID). No one needs to know which wireless LAN (WLAN) is yours -- better to use "PineTree" rather than "Johnson Family."

3. Use WPA2 encryption, minimally

Your encryption options on just about any wireless access point (AP) or router will include the following:

  • Wired Equivalent Privacy, which is long obsolete;
  • Wi-Fi Protected Access 1 (WPA1), also a relic;
  • WPA2;
  • WPA1/WPA2; or
  • WPA2/WPA3.

WPA2 is still good and generally a safe bet. If you know you have WPA3-compatible clients, go for WPA2/WPA3 for backward compatibility and the latest encryption.

4. Change your Wi-Fi password on occasion

We all tend to allow visitors on our Wi-Fi networks from time to time. If you have children or roommates, it's easy for the Wi-Fi preshare to get passed around to more people than should have it over time. Every six or 12 months, change your Wi-Fi password.

5. Use strong passwords on other network devices

It's easy to forget that Wi-Fi is just part of the rest of the network. If you have important devices on your home network, like networked storage or media servers, for example, make sure they too have strong passwords. And never use the Wi-Fi password for access to these resources.

6. Consider a guest SSID

With the drastic rise in work-from-home policies because of the pandemic, ever more work is being done on the same networks we use for personal use. Most home routers give an option for a separate guest SSID, thus enabling simple segmentation of your home WLAN into two isolated segments. Even if you don't have guests per se, you can use this feature to separate work and play devices.

7. Be aware of physical risks targeted

Depending on your situation, you may have physical ports on your network that are exposed or easily accessed by outsiders. Maybe you ran cabling for an outside AP or camera that is easily reachable from the ground. Aside from being targets of theft, these devices can be used for a range of intrusions, so check on them frequently to make sure no one has tampered with them.

This was last published in July 2020

Dig Deeper on Wireless LAN (WLAN)