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Why do hackers hack home networks?

NetworkTigers discusses why hackers hack home networks and how to secure your home wifi network.

News of cyberattacks on businesses peppers the headlines daily. Hacks, breaches and ransomware are regular occurrences. What many people may find alarming is that home networks are also susceptible to cybercrime and frequent victims.

Why target personal computers?

It may seem odd that hackers are interested in breaching your home network, considering that businesses and organizations provide more spoils for the effort. Some of the reasons hackers hack home networks are:

To build botnets

Hackers use Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks to overwhelm targeted websites with traffic, knocking them offline. They can generate this activity using the botnet’s vast networks of private computers compromised with malware. The hackers can control these computers en masse, creating insurmountable waves of internet activity.

To direct victims to malicious sites

Criminals can use a hacked router to redirect internet users to sites of their choosing. These sites can harbor malicious code or force victims to download malware and spyware onto their devices. 

To browse illegal content

If your wifi is breached, someone can use your internet to browse the dark web, stream content, view illegal websites or make illegal purchases.

Because it’s easy

Most homeowners aren’t concerned about the security of their home internet. Research shows that one in six users don’t do anything to protect their network. Hackers are happy to take advantage of weak passwords and poor security habits.

How to keep your home network safe

Change your router’s default name and password

Most routers have a name and password for easy setup and configuration. Lists of default login credentials are available online and these names and passwords can be used to login to your router remotely. Many users never think to change these login credentials, and hackers prey on this. 

Keep your router and all connected devices updated

Hardware and software developers continually update their products to keep them secure. To prevent any cracks from appearing in your home network, make sure that every connected device is regularly updated with the latest patches, OS and firmware. Any network is only as secure as its weakest link, meaning everything from connected coffee makers to your tablets and phones can provide criminals with a way in.

Create tough network credentials

Anyone living in a populated area has seen lists of available wifi networks named after the address at which they are located or the people who live there. Create a network name that does not reveal identifying information for maximum safety. Avoid names, dates, sports teams, pets and any other words that might be associated with you in favor of a randomly generated string of numbers, letters and characters. Additionally, your network’s password should be impossible to guess. 

Use guest networks

While friends and family staying over are unlikely to wage cyber war on your wifi router, their browsing habits may put your network at risk. To prevent a guest from inadvertently opening the door for the bad guys, set up a separate network for them to use during their stay.

It would be best to create a guest network for the Internet of Things (IoT) devices outside your computers, phones and tablets. A network specifically made for thermostats, speakers, home security cameras and other electronics that don’t store personal data but may be especially easy to hack will keep criminals from being able to penetrate further into your system should they compromise one of them.

Use your router’s firewall and encryption

If your router has a built-in firewall and wifi encryption options, turn them on. Most of the time, these features aren’t the most robust. However, hackers seeking out home networks are primarily interested in low-hanging fruit. The more blockers you can put between a cybercriminal and success, the more likely they will move on to an easier target.

Ditch the old hardware

We get excited about and look forward to updating phones, computers and tablets. Lowly internet routers, however, tend to remain in use long after they’re past their prime.

Tucked away in entertainment centers, behind desks and in closets, most people don’t pay much mind to their routers aside from the occasional reset. Depending on your internet service provider, your router may have also been issued to you. This further removes you from feeling a sense of ownership over the device.

Outdated hardware can be full of opportunities for hackers. Some equipment may no longer receive updates from the manufacturer. Older routers may use the outdated WPA2 security protocol instead of the more secure WPA3 protocol. WPA2 routers still in use should be replaced as soon as possible.

A hardware firewall in your home network should also be inspected to ensure it’s built for a modern security environment. Old, unsupported firewalls should be replaced with newer models. 

You can save money by buying used network gear from a dealer with a reputation for quality refurbished equipment.

Use a VPN

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) have been a network security standard for some time, especially when using public wifi. However, they’re just as valuable in the home office. A VPN lets you conceal your network traffic from others, making your online activity more secure. If a hacker can look at what you’re up to online, they can grab your passwords and eavesdrop on any unencrypted connections. 

Inspect your connected devices

Check out your network monthly to see what devices are connected to it. If you see something you don’t recognize, give it the boot and change your password. 

Admittedly, some IoT devices show up on your network under names that are not discernable. They should be removed out of caution. If the device you reject is something you use frequently, connect it again when you can and make a note of its name for future scans. 

Centralize your router within your home

Internet routers send their signals all around them. This means anyone within a specific range can see yours appear in a scan. You can limit who can see your network by placing your router in a central location within your home. Installing your router against an outside wall, or one between you and a neighboring apartment, extends your wifi signal far beyond the confines of your home and should be avoided if possible.

Derek Walborn
Derek Walborn
Derek Walborn is a freelance research-based technical writer. He has worked as a content QA analyst for AT&T and Pernod Ricard.

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Why do hackers hack home networks?