Chances are that when you bought a Wi-Fi router, you probably did not prioritize strong network security.
After all, when we think about wireless connectivity in our homes, most of us generally care more about speed of data transmissions and how much range the router can cover.
But it’s time to change our views. Network security needs to be high on our list of considerations because a Wi-Fi station is the gateway for devices to get on the internet. If your router is infected with malicious software, all your internet-connected devices become vulnerable, including your smartphone, computer, smart watch, television and Amazon Echo.
A recent cyberthreat underscores the need to take network security more seriously. Last month, Cisco’s threat research arm Talos, in collaboration with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, discovered that a malware system with links to Russia had infected hundreds of thousands of Wi-Fi routers made by popular brands like Netgear, TP-Link and Linksys. This month, Talos revealed the problem was even worse than initially thought: Routers from other brands like Asus and D-Link had also been infected.
That means base stations from every well-known router brand were a target for this malware, known as VPNFilter, which is capable of manipulating your web traffic. Attackers could use it to load a fake banking site on your computer browser that looks like the one you normally use and steal your credentials and clean out your bank accounts. They could also load spoof versions of an email site you use to steal your password and gain access to your communications.
Netgear, D-Link and Linksys said they advised people to install the latest security updates and to choose strong usernames and passwords. TP-Link and Asus did not respond to requests for comment.
Our remedy? For starters, make sure your Wi-Fi station is always running the latest version of its “firmware,” or software system, just as you are supposed to keep operating systems up-to-date for your smartphone and computer. In a 2014 survey of I.T. professionals and employees who work remotely conducted by the security firm Tripwire, only 32 percent said they knew how to update their routers with the latest firmware.