Many of us know how vital it is to ensure our computers, phones, and software are updated on a regular basis. But very few give the same thought to our routers and modems.
But perhaps I’ve gotten ahead of myself. The big question is “What is all the fuss about updates? After all, I’ve got the features I need”.
There are three reasons developers release updates:
- Monitization. At some point the developer often charges for updates. This is a reality of being in the type of economy we in most developed states.
- Bug fixes and new features. There are always bugs and features to be added.
- Security fixes. Ok, this technically falls under “Bug fixes”, but it is important enough to have its own bullet point. Bullet points are cheap!
Security fixes are my focus for updates.
Security fixes typically result from a breach. Once it has been discovered and the appropriate developer notified, they eventually get around to fixing it. There will always be someone who is the first to be hacked by a vulnerability. But you can certainly avoid being a future victim by installing the security fix.
Back to routers and modems.
The majority of users never check their network equipment for software or firmware updates. It is common for me to see a five year old router that not only has never been updated, but the default administrator, admin password, and wifi password are all still at defaults.
This is understandable. Unlike your computer or phone, updating network equipment is not a one-click operation, and it involves dealing with a device that is alien to all but IT professionals.
But like most everything else in life, it’s easy when you know how.
The easiest option is if your network device is leased or was purchased from your ISP–like Xfiniti, Qwest, AT&T, etc. In that case, just give customer support a call and ask them to ensure the device is updated. They can do this remotely, often in under five minutes.
If your device doesn’t fall under this condition, it is still easy. As every device is different, let me outline the process instead of giving device-specific detailed step-by-step instructions:
- As updating a network device will break a network connection temporarily, ensure that nobody and no device is actively working on either the Internet or local network.
- Pull out or download the manual for the device. What you are looking for is the default administrator username and password. If you have changed these, you should already have the. credentials at hand.
- Figure out the IP address of the device. Most network devices have an IP address of 192.168.0.1 or 192.168.1.1. You can find your device address by opening up your network settings or preferences on any device connected to your network. The specific field within the network settings may be called “router” or “gateway”.
- Most network devices can be accessed using a web browser. Open a browser, then instead of entering a website name into the URL or address bar, enter the router IP address, then tap the. Enter or Return key.
- The network device will present an authentication window. Enter the administrator username and password, then tap the Enter button.
- Once into the device, look around for the firmware update area. The manual becomes your friend here.
- Tap the Update button. The download and update typically takes 5 minutes. During this time the device is offline–even to you.
- When the device comes back online, try to update again. Some devices can only update incrementally. I just finished with a device that had to be manually updated 4 times.
- Exit your browser and you are done! See, it really was easy!
Q: When is it a good time to replace my current router with a new unit?
A: NOW! (Really)
What is a Router?
A router is a hardware network device that allows other devices (such as computers, tablets, mobile phones, printers, smart watches, smart doorbells, webcams, etc.) to connect to your local area network (LAN), and then trough the router, communicate with each other (such as sending a file to be printed, or opening a file on the server), and connect to the internet.
As the router is the hub of all of your network activity, a failure or hack at the router means a catastrophic failure of your network and all devices, and a potential hack of all your devices.
Why Replace My Router Now?
Network technologies have changed significantly in just the past few years. If your router is more than 2 years old, it very likely is no longer considered highly secure. This puts ALL of your data from ALL of your devices at risk.
In addition, many of the latest routers include additional security software to help monitor your devices and network for breaches. Earlier routers pretty much let data in and out without any examination.
At the enterprise level (large businesses) Cisco, Jupiter, HP are among the go-to providers of networking equipment. These units have always had security software built-in. They also typically have upgrade options to ensure your always have the latest and greatest features available to you.
This is why these units cost upwards of 5x the cost of prosumer models.
For the purposes of this blog, I’ll not discuss the enterprise, as it is a rarified field demanding one-on-one discussions for your particular environment.
But, for the home user and the small and medium-sized business, prosumer routers can have excellent performance and features, at very affordable prices.
Earlier wi-fi router models used WPA2 for their encryption protocol. Ratified in 2004, this was considered fairly secure. However, it could be hacked. Which is one of the reasons it was replaced in 2018 with WPA3 encryption. Routers with WPA3 capability started shipping in 2019.
Note: If you have older devices (computers, tablets, etc.), they also may be capable of using WPA2, but not WPA3. This makes your older device a security vulnerability. And if you don’t replace the older device, you will need to enable WPA2 on your router for the older device to use the network. This immediately makes the entire network vulnerable.
How to Enable WPA3
For almost all routers, enabling WPA3 is not much more than a tap. For this example, I’m using my favorite prosumer router, the ASUS GT-AXE11000.
- Open a web browser to the control panel of your router.
- Navigate to the Wi-Fi settings.
- Select WPA3-Personal.
- The router may restart to initialize the new encryption.
If you don’t see the option for WPA3, it is time to replace your router with a current model.
All consumer-grade, and most prosumer-grade routers lack significant network security beyond a rudimentary firewall. One of the reasons I love the ASUS line is the higher-end models include very good network security.
Here you can see how it protects the network by:
- Self-analysis, pointing the administrator to configurations that my not be fully secure.
- Logging the malicious sites users or malware have attempted to access and have been blocked.
- Two-Way IPS blocks attempts malicious packets from reaching your router or network devices.
- Infected Device Prevention and Blocking prevents infected devices from releasing your sensitive information.
Replacing Your Old Router With New
Older routers were pretty much a plug-and-play device, and any user could set it up.
The only downside to the newer security-conscious devices is they do require some reading to do the job right. And even then, I recommend hiring an IT professional to spend the hour or two to properly install and configure. In the case of the ASUS, there are over 100 settings that require attention.
Another Bonus With Your Upgrade–Speed
Although security is the main reason to upgrade your router, there is a bonus available – better performance and speed.
Older routers will typically max out on their wi-fi speed at 300, 600, perhaps 1000 mbs. In addition, they are limited to the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz channels. The 2.4 GHz channel is overly crowded – sharing bandwidth with microwave ovens, garage door openers, wireless phones, bluetooth devices, and almost any other wireless device. Think of driving in Los Angeles freeway traffic. The posted speed limit may be 65 mph, but with bumper-to-bumper traffic, everyone is going 15 mph.
Newer routers will still have the legacy 2.4 GHz and 5 GHZ to support older devices, but may now include the 6 GHz channel. As this is newly opened, few devices use it, so it is just you and a few other cars on the freeway.
I just love it when with just a few mouse taps I can add a solid layer of security to all the devices under my roof. It’s just icing on the cake when it’s free!
All of the internet-connected devices under your roof need to communicate over the internet in order to function. This includes computers, tablets, smartphones, webcams, smartwatches, smart doorbells, smart thermostats, printers, and more.
With your computers, tablets, and smartphones, you can add a layer of protection against malware by installing quality antimalware software. But what about your printer, smartwatch, doorbell, thermostat… you get the picture. Each of these smart devices are open to a breach, and few offer any option to install or configure security.
The other possible problem is adult content. Should you be a parent that would prefer little Jane and Johnny to not have access to adult content, it can be a full-time job playing content cop.
All of your home and business devices must connect to the internet through your router. Inside of each router is a setting specifying which Domain Name Server (DNS) the router will use to learn where to direct this internet traffic. If a DNS server was knowledgeable about which web addresses held malware or adult content, the DNS could pass this info along to the router, blocking access to these sites.
Lucky you! There are DNS servers with this knowledge, and Cloudflare offers them at no charge.
The How To
If you would like to block known malicious and adult content sites from all of your home and business devices, you just have to change your router DNS settings. By default, most routers use your internet provider’s DNS servers. You will change this IP address to those of Cloudflare.
Every router has a unique interface. In the example below I’m using a CenturyLink Actiontec C3000A.
- Log in to the modem. If you aren’t familiar with the process, call your internet provider for instructions.
- From the menu bar, select Advanced Setup.
- From the sidebar, select DHCP Settings.
- In the main area of the page, scroll down to 5. Set the DNS servers allocated with DHCP requests.
- From this area, select Custom Servers.
- For malware only protection, set the Primary DNS to 126.96.36.199, and Secondary DNS to 188.8.131.52. For malware and adult content protection, set the Primary DNS to 184.108.40.206, and Secondary DNS to 220.127.116.11
- Tap the Apply button.
- Your modem may reboot. The protection will be in place immediately.
It’s Your Data… Protect It
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