How to keep your internet connection secure

Given our reliance on the internet since the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems obvious that every effort should be taken to keep our internet connections secure. Yet many of us are guilty of overlooking basic steps which would help to improve Wi-Fi security around the home. Fortunately, there are easy ways to keep your household data secure. In this article, we consider everything from how to encrypt your internet connection to why your router’s location might help to stop criminals from eavesdropping from the street outside.

Woman using credit card to make a purchase online

Pass the test

Passwords represent the frontline of internet security, and yet most of us are content to use the passwords provided by our internet service provider (ISP). That’s perhaps acceptable in terms of the random alphanumeric character strings used as Wi-Fi passwords, but it’s positively dangerous in terms of the router’s own protection.

Most broadband routers are supplied with administrator passwords set to ‘admin’. It would be easy for a criminal to access your router’s settings through a web browser, change the password, and effectively lock you out of your own broadband network.

Changing administrator passwords on broadband routers is a different process depending on the model you have, but you can find instructions on how to do it by searching online. It’s important to do so because anyone looking to hack into your online network or compromise Wi-Fi security can find the exact same login steps online. So the sooner you change your password, the less risk of someone else doing it instead.

Router one

Routers are the gateway between our homes and the internet, so maximising Wi-Fi security is crucial. And while hardwired ethernet connections are inherently safe, Wi-Fi security is less dependable. 

Routers contain firmware – modified software which allows their hardware to function – and this should be set to automatically update. Periodically rebooting your router can boost performance, allow updates to take effect, and ensure it is protected against the latest bugs and security flaws. 

Ensure your router is set to the highest WPA2 level of security, requiring every new device to submit a password before it can connect. Avoid WPS connectivity, which is a convenience feature that has the unfortunate side-effect of simplifying access to unauthorised devices.

Also avoid having your network’s SSID publicly visible – it’s safer to add guest devices manually than have your connection showing up whenever anyone nearby searches for available Wi-Fi networks.

Fighting off a virus

The internet is awash with malware and viruses, which are constantly mutating or being launched. New viruses are known as zero day attacks, and only an active antivirus package with permission to automatically update its threat directory will identify and block them.

Anti-malware software can also repel specific hacking or eavesdropping attempts, as well as fending off more conventional threats like worms, Trojans and junk email. 

You don’t have to open a compromised email attachment or click a dodgy hyperlink to infect a device nowadays, so having proactive security on desktop and laptop computers is highly recommended. Mobile devices are less risky, but they can still lead you to compromised websites or emails with malicious payloads attached.

Think before you click

While up-to-date antivirus software does a good job of sifting out zero day threats and malware, you also have a responsibility not to take unnecessary risks online. Type web addresses into browser bars slowly to avoid mistyping them, since criminals often register sites which look similar to genuine ones (amazom.com, bbc.con) and then pack them with malware.

Search engines are rarely caught out in this way, so you can generally trust links in search results. Try to avoid visiting websites which aren’t securely encrypted – they won’t have a https:// address prefix, and your web browser might flag them up as potentially dangerous.

Email remains a popular place for threats which could compromise your internet connection. Never click an email hyperlink unless you’re sure the sender is legitimate, and always ensure a sender’s email address is valid.

For instance, you might receive an email whose sender name displays as ‘HMRC’, yet when you hover your mouse or cursor over it, the sender’s real email address is qwertyuiop353@mail.ru. That’s clearly not an address HMRC would ever use.

Any email address with a country code TLD (ccTLD) from .br (Brazil), .cn (China) or .ru (Russia) should be treated with particular suspicion, unless you’re in the habit of contacting people or companies in these nations – these are global hotbeds for spam.

Location, location, location

It’s extremely difficult for anyone to eavesdrop on data carried through wired connections unless they’ve installed remote monitoring software on a computer. However, Wi-Fi security is far less robust.

Information distributed between a tablet and your broadband router could potentially be intercepted and viewed by people near (but not necessarily inside) your home, such as neighbours or people sitting in a van outside with a laptop and a reason to spy on you.

This is also true of your Wi-Fi signal itself, which could be hijacked or ‘borrowed’ by people outside your home. To reduce the risk of either scenario unfolding, try to position a router as centrally within your home as possible – in a two-storey house, a good location would be on the floor of the upper landing.

Wireless signals radiate out in all directions, so not only will positioning a router in the centre of the house optimise signal strength in every room, but it’ll also minimise the likelihood of someone outside being able to find, log onto and exploit your connection.

Encrypt sensitive information

Many of the things we do online contain personal and private information, from online banking to health and fitness apps. You should try to use an encrypted connection wherever possible when you use the internet to maximise security. 

Knowing how to encrypt internet connections doesn’t require an IT qualification or a love of technology. All you have to do is install a piece of software to ensure any data sent and received through their connections can’t be identified, intercepted or interfered with by third parties. It’s often advisable to encrypt information sent over public Wi-Fi networks, ensuring personal or work-related information can’t be spied on by someone else on the same open network – hackers can hide in plain sight in cafés, libraries or city centres.

Good housekeeping

Finally, it’s important not to overlook basic common sense in terms of keeping your internet connection secure. Ensure doors and windows are locked, so thieves can’t let themselves in and steal devices or gain access to your bookmarks and email.

Don’t leave computers logged on and unattended if there are tradespeople or visitors around. Disable devices which don’t currently need internet access, and avoid using the same password too frequently.

You might even want to consider a password manager utility, which means you only have to remember one (preferably complex) password to keep hundreds of online accounts and profiles securely protected.