Keeping Your Home Network Secure

Jason Hazlewood /
Home Network Security

With stories of hackers, identity theft, and stolen data using computers in the news a lot in recent years, more people are wondering what they need to do to secure their Internet connections from invaders. The introduction of Internet of Things devices makes this all the more imperative, since, while our smart devices make our lives easier, they also have vulnerabilities that can be exploited if homeowners are not careful. Malicious actors have used thermostats to rob casinos, or taken over hundreds of thousands of devices to direct their computing power toward nefarious endeavors.

Protecting against things like this is very simple, however. Online security doesn’t have to be a hassle if you just know a few things about your network, from your Internet connection to your smart TV to your kids’ cell phones. Taking a little bit of time to understand how to secure your home can save you tons of trouble in the long run, and it could all be avoided by taking some simple precautions and maintaining your set of protections. Here is a short primer that should get you started on your home’s Internet security.

What Counts as Your Home Network?

Some of the devices that are on your home network are obvious, and some might surprise you. We have so many devices around our homes that we don’t associate some of them with the Internet. Of course our computers and laptops are on our home networks because they connect directly to the Internet. However, a major complement to the Internet in today’s world is a Wi-Fi network, and this opens up all sorts of vulnerabilities that can be exploited. One of them is that Wi-Fi is like an invisible field, and anyone within that field can use it if they have access. This means neighbors and even random passersby can use your connection if it’s not protected, which can slow down the speed on your own activities and cost you data, if that is a factor.

Some devices that connect to our Internet service through a wireless router include mobile devices such as cell phones and tablets, video game consoles, office machinery such as printers and scanners, and laptop computers. Smart home devices, such as light bulbs, thermostats, coffee makers, vacuum cleaners, and doorbell cameras also use your home’s Wi-Fi to stay connected to the network.

Not all of these items are vulnerable to outside invaders, but many of them can provide a back door for unwanted intruders to get into your network.

What Do Hackers Do With My Network?

When we think of hackers, we think of shady computer geeks stealing millions of dollars or tons of information using malicious programs on their computers. We think of nefarious actors inserting computer viruses into major infrastructure to make it crash and stop working properly. While these are the types of hackers whose exploits often make the news, some hacking is less obvious and not even destructive. Hackers have worked their way into baby monitors to say sinister things to the baby, or have taken over entire networks to play pranks on companies or individuals. Your next door neighbor could be hacking you right now by taking advantage of your unprotected Wi-Fi.

The main reasons to protect your network are:

  • To prevent your bandwidth from being stolen. Any bandwidth being used by someone outside your network is slowing the Internet for those inside your network. You shouldn’t have to suffer lag from someone else’s downloads.
  • To prevent identity theft. A lot of us use the Internet for activities that make our identities vulnerable, including applying for jobs, signing up for government benefits (from food stamps to student loans), banking, shopping, paying bills, and a variety of other purposes. Some of these expose personal information such as credit card, social security, and driver’s license numbers, bank account information, and even the identities of your kids or any other minors in your care. All of this information can be exploited by malicious actors to steal your money, open accounts in your name, and even subject kids to danger.
  • To prevent data theft, which is very similar to protecting your identity. While your identity deals with numbers and codes that deal with who you are, data monitors your personal habits, your interests, and your everyday online interactions. In 2016, a company called Cambridge Analytica made the news when they infamously used this type of data, obtained from Facebook, to target political ads. Data theft is an invasion of your privacy on a deeply personal level, because it is almost like online surveillance in that it collects information about things you do online that you think are private.
  • To protect from malware. There are different types of malware that do different things. Many of them are simple nuisances, which do annoying things like open unwanted windows or tabs on your browser. However, some of them can be serious, and have major effects on your devices and even your network. Stolen processing speed or bandwidth can slow down the Internet for the whole house while someone from outside benefits from your connection. Ransomware protection is to guard against malware that freezes your devices until you pay money or download more malware. Not doing so could result in “bricking,” which is when a device is rendered entirely useless by malware. Bricking can also affect smart home devices such as thermostats and doorbell cameras as they are usurped for their processing power or rendered useless, exposing your home to burglary or vandalism.

How Do I Protect My Network?

Now that we’ve discussed the dangers that could come along if you don’t protect your network, let’s talk about how to do it. Think of network protection like car insurance or home security: you hope you won’t need it, but it’s there to protect you in case you do. It doesn’t take very long to set up basic protection, or you can look into more advanced options.

In fact, your best protection would be a multi-layered suite of different apps and programs to protect yourself from various angles. This way, you can be secure in the knowledge that online intruders won’t bypass one security measure, because you have another in place to block them.

  • Secure passwords: there are many different methods to creating a secure password, but the most important thing is to have one. Even if you have to write it down and keep it in a safe or security deposit box, a secure network password will keep intruders out. Most networks allow you to create guest passwords for visitors to use your network if needed, but every password under the network falls back to the main Internet and Wi-Fi password.
  • Password managers: a password manager is an app or program that generates a random password each time you login to any of your accounts, or retrieves one from an encrypted database. It operates from a central password, which then accesses your account through encrypted passwords. This not only keeps your accounts safe, but keeps anyone who does get through from guessing your central password.
  • Secure VPN: a VPN is an acronym for Virtual Private Network, which is another way to encrypt your online communication. It’s like hiding your Internet address behind a mask so that no one can see what websites you go to or even where you are. An Internet address, or IP address, is like an ID tag for your computer’s connection that includes your location and search history. A VPN puts a layer between you and the Internet, so you cannot be identified by your data.
  • Antivirus software or security suites from your provider: Most Internet service providers have their own security services, offered for a small fee as an add-on to your Internet package. These usually include features such as anti-malware scans, anti-spam shields, identity theft protection, and more. This is the simplest way for most people to get great online security, because you can manage it from your Internet account.

Having great Internet is also about having secure Internet, so you can protect yourself and your family from hackers and intruders exploiting your connection for their own personal gain. To find out what providers are available near you, what their packages and rates are, and what other features they offer, just tell us your zip code. We’ll let you compare everyone available so you can choose a plan – and Internet security – that is right for you.