May 27, 2019

Tech Fix: Your Wi-Fi Security Is Probably Weak. Here’s How to Fix That.

Replace your router every few years

Even if your router still appears to work properly, the device has reached the end of its life when manufacturers stop supporting it with firmware updates, leaving it vulnerable to future cyberthreats. You can expect this to happen every three to five years. At that point, it is crucial to upgrade to a new piece of hardware.

The best way to check is to look up your router on the manufacturer’s website and read notes about its firmware releases. If there hasn’t been a firmware update in the last year, the router has probably been discontinued.

Among the routers affected by the VPNFilter malware, a significant portion of them were more than five years old, said Cisco’s Mr. Watchinski.

How did we get here in the first place? Historically, manufacturers have designed routers by cobbling together open-source software platforms with commodity components to produce base stations as cheaply as possible — with little care for long-term security, Mr. Fraser said.

“It is a miserable situation, and it has been from day one,” he said. But Mr. Fraser added that there were now “new world” routers with operating systems, tougher security and thoughtful features to make network management easy.

If it is time to update your router, rid yourself of some of these headaches by looking for a smarter router. Check for Wi-Fi systems that offer automatic updates to spare you the headache of having to check and download updates periodically. Many modern Wi-Fi systems include automatic updates as a feature. My favorite ones are Eero and Google Wifi, which can easily be set up through smartphone apps.

The caveat is that smarter Wi-Fi systems tend to cost more than cheap routers that people are accustomed to. Eero’s base stations start at $199, and a Google Wifi station costs $119, compared with $50 for a cheap router. For both of these systems, you can also add base stations throughout the home to extend their wireless connections, creating a so-called mesh network.

Another bonus? Mr. Fraser noted that more modern Wi-Fi systems should have longer life spans because the companies sometimes relied on different revenue streams, like selling subscriptions to network security services.

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