There’s a gadget in your home that you don’t give much thought to until it stops working and you discover you’re lost without it. Then you curse it, reboot it and watch it spring back to life — or not.
It’s your router, your lifeline to the internet, an essential component in your household and business. And much as your operating systems, software and apps are constantly updated to thwart security threats, your router runs 24/7 and receives its share of updates, too.
Unfortunately, router update notifications don’t hit us over the head. There is no red exclamation mark that alerts you to an issue, no message that pops up asking if you’d like to apply an update. But this mini-computer that directs traffic over networks sits vulnerable unless you take action. (By the way, router updates are called firmware because they are embedded into a piece of hardware.)
Consider what you’ve connected to your network. For starters, there are your computer, tablet, phone and television. Add the surge in internet-connected you-name-its: cameras, light bulbs, refrigerators … even a Wi-Fi-ready slow cooker.
Your family uses the network, and your guests do, too.
Hackers are continually looking for targets, and all they need to get to the personal files and devices on your network are your router’s IP address and your administrative password. A simple Google search is all it takes to find both for just about any router make and model.
Once hackers have this information from a router that hasn’t been updated, they can steal your files, peek through your webcam or worse. They can start sniffing data that’s passing to and from your router. They can record all your online activity, including usernames and passwords. They can even reroute your traffic to fake websites.
Routers can also be taken over to perform illegal activities, such as denial of service attacks or piracy. The scary part is you might not even know your router is compromised and being used for nefarious deeds.
If you’re not regularly updating your router with new firmware, you’re ripe for attack. Fortunately, updating isn’t hard. The procedure depends on your router, but you typically access an administrator page by simply typing the default IP address of your router in a browser’s address bar.
Common IP addresses for popular routers are 192.168.1.1 for Linksys and D-Link, 192.168.0.1 for Netgear, and 192.168.2.1 for Belkin. Should none of these addresses work for you, there’s a free app called Fing that can help.
Fing is a network tool that belongs in your tech arsenal, even if you know your router’s IP address. Through it, you not only can learn your router’s IP address, but you can see all devices connected to your network, check your internet connectivity, monitor the network and detect intruders.
Once you’re on the router’s administrator page in a browser, you will have to enter a username and password to log in.
Once logged in, find an area called “Advanced” or “Management” to check for firmware updates. Usually, you will have the option to check, review, download and install your router’s new firmware on the same page.
Router firmware updates require a restart, so make sure you do not have ongoing activities that require a network connection when you apply them. Make an appointment now in your calendar. You should check for router firmware updates at least once every three months.
Fortunately, some newer routers don’t require human intervention for updates. The updates are applied automatically, helping to keep our files and digital lives safe from harm.