Wi-Fi security has evolved to the extent that most modern routers are set up to be secure with strong passwords, encryption methods, built-in firewalls and other security measures devised to protect you from malicious attacks. But what happens when those encryption methods are broken?
That’s exactly what has happened after Belgian researchers at KU Leuven University broke the WPA2 security protocol in 2017. WPA2 is used to protect the majority of Wi-Fi connections in the world because it is the most secure method available for general use, so it was huge news at the time.
But while researchers managed to crack the WPA2 protocol, you shouldn’t worry too much. Here, we outline all the ways you can secure your Wi-Fi network against hackers.
How can I protect my data if Wi-Fi isn’t secure?
The fact that WPA2 has been hacked is alarming news and affects many consumer devices, but there’s no cause for panic.
In essence, the researchers exposed a bug in the Wi-Fi standard which leaves wireless traffic vulnerable to potential eavesdropping with malicious intent. In other words, anyone could use the flaw to see what you’re doing on the internet and grab credit card numbers, passwords, chat messages, emails, photos and more.
The good news is that most devices have now been patched or updated to fix the bug. And in any case, it isn’t usually WPA2 alone that’s the security between a hacker and your data.
For a start, a Wi-Fi attack needs to be within range of the network in question, but it’s likely that you’re sending a large amount of encrypted information over the internet anyway – and that’s something hackers can’t read, even with access to your Wi-Fi network.
This is why you should be particularly mindful of the padlock icon in your browser’s address bar. If a padlock is not visible, which indicates the site is not using https, then there is a possibility any data you enter will be viewable to others.
So if you’re about to enter your address and payment details and hit ‘submit’, make sure that padlock is there first.
Returning to those patches and updates, Microsoft issued a fix for Windows devices on 10 October 2017 (which will have been applied if you’re using Automatic Updates). Apple also patched the vulnerability for macOS and iOS around the same time.
Google issued security updates for Android devices in November 2017, so check in the About section of your phone or tablet’s settings to see when the last security update was. If prior to November 2017 and your phone runs Android 6 or earlier, you should update or pick up a new phone.
Wireless routers are rarely updated, as are smart home devices, but it’s well worth checking to see if you can install an update for your particular gadgets. You may find that some automatically update themselves, so it’s just a case of checking that your device’s firmware or software version date is recent and not before October 2017.
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Which wireless security standard should I use?
Modern routers usually have a Wi-Fi a password set by default, and that’s used for various protocols to encrypt the data you send across the web. Here are some of the terms you’ll see knocking about for consumer-grade Wi-Fi:
Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) was the norm back in 1997 when the 802.11 Wi-Fi standard was introduced. This is now deemed insecure and was subsequently replaced in 2003 by WPA through the TKIP encryption method.
Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP) is now also being phased out, but unlike WEP, is still seen in most modern routers.
Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) was introduced shortly after TKIP in 2004 along with WPA2, the new and improved WPA standard. Select this level of encryption where possible, but note that your wireless devices will also need to support it in order to talk to your router (most do, but some older kit may not).
Despite the aforementioned hack, WPA2 is still said to be the best way to secure Wi-Fi. Nowadays router manufacturers and ISPs typically use WPA2 by default; some use a combination of WPA2 and WPA to ensure compatibility with the widest range of wireless kit.