Has Your Wireless Router Been Hacked?

Category: Security , Wireless

Malcolm Riddell was a tech-savvy guy who lived on the 12th floor of a building where most of his neighbors were retired seniors. He figured he didn't need a password on his wireless router. But after an unexpected visit from the FBI, he changed his mind. Here's what you need to know to keep hackers from using your wireless Internet connection...

Are Hackers or Criminals Using Your Wifi Router?

FBI agents held Malcolm Riddell against the wall and asked him why child pornography was flowing through his wireless router's Internet connection. For a few tense hours, Riddell faced the possibility of felony charges, prison time and permanent sex offender status. And it was all because his wireless router had been carelessly left open to hackers.

If you suspect that your wireless router has been hacked there are several things you can do to verify and stop it. Start by asking yourself why you think the WiFi router has been hacked.

If your Internet speed suddenly slows down or you lose your connection, it's possible that someone has hijacked your wireless router. But it's more likely a traffic jam or a problem at your ISP's end. If you have a DSL or fiber optic connection, it's dedicated to you. If you have a cable internet connection, it's shared with your neighbors. Ask them if they've noticed any slowdowns. If not, it's more likely you've been hacked.
Wifi Router Hacked

Next, you can look into your WiFi network to see who is using it, via your router's built-in web interface. Open a web browser and enter the router's IP address into the address bar. Most routers use http://192.168.1.1 as their IP address. If that doesn't work, ask your ISP for the address to login to the router.

The router will ask for a username and password. If the credentials you've used before don't work, it's probable that a hacker has changed them. Reset the router to its default settings, including the default credentials, and change the default username and password to something else. (Note that this is the username and password to login into the router, and NOT your wifi access password.)

Examine Your Router...

If you get logged in to the administrator's console, look for a "My Network" tab or an option to view the "DHCP clients" currently connected to the router. You should know which devices are authorized to use your network. Normally, this would include all the computers in your home, wireless devices such as an iPod or smartphone, and possibly a wireless printer. You may also have a television set-top box that connects to your router for on-demand programming. Some routers keep a log of all connections, so you can look back over the past few days to see if any unauthorized connections have occurred.

If you see an unfamiliar device name, or more devices than you know you have, then you've probably been hacked. Or at the very least, you're allowing freeloaders to access your router without a password. Not good either way. Remember that guy who got the not-so-friendly visit from the FBI?

Most WiFi routers are hacked because the owners did not take the time to secure them. Always change the default administrator's username and password to something long and obscure. Always enable wifi encryption and authentication, so that every device must provide an authentication key (password) to gain access to the router. Make the authentication key long and obscure, too.

There are other tricks you can use to foil hackers, too. If you know that you will not have more than X authorized devices connected to the router at once, look for a place in the router settings to limit the number of available DHCP IP addresses, leaving no room for a hacker. You can also create a MAC address filter that allows only specific, known devices to connect to the router. You'll find the MAC address of a computer in its system information display. Phones and other internet-enabled devices usually have their MAC addresses recorded on labels or in documentation that accompanies the devices.

If all that sounds a bit geeky, ask your internet service provider or a computer-savvy friend for help changing the router settings. With just a little effort, you can secure your router and avoid any unexpected visits from the guys in dark sunglasses.

Do you have something to say about wireless router security? Post your comment or question below...

 
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Posted by on 3 Feb 2011


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Most recent comments on "Has Your Wireless Router Been Hacked?"

Posted by:

GeorgeB
03 Feb 2011

My past experience is that your ISP will not help you with any wireless router issues, settings or troubleshooting UNLESS they are the owners of the router. Find a friend who knows his stuff about these devices or possibly contact the router manufacturer for assistance. But above all else, lock it down, use encryption and if you must share the encryption key with anyone, be sure that it goes nowhere else. Probably a good idea to change it occasionally as well.


Posted by:

Roger
03 Feb 2011

What is the best security setup for my home wifi?


Posted by:

Tom S.
03 Feb 2011

I believe that the problem is that the vast majority of users haven't the foggiest idea of what they are doing with their computers, whether its setting up a firewall, having an up-to-date anti-virus (Or any anti-virus for that matter)and having a person who uses the wireless connection on your router, log in with a password. Users who do NOT practice safe communications, such as these basic three, should NOT be allowed on the internet!


Posted by:

canoe
04 Feb 2011

Bob has gone Fred Langa! Ask him the time and he will tell you how to build a grandfather clock with your teeth and a springer spaniel.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Okay, this article was a little tech heavy... But it's important stuff, and the instructions can't be easily generalized from one router to another. I think by now most ISPs do configure these things correctly. But if users buy their own router equipment and install on their own, they need to know how to do it safely.


Posted by:

tuffsheet
04 Feb 2011

At least Bob is making people aware of what COULD happen and I'm sure over half don't have a clue but there are ways to get it done. Sorta like when your toilet leaks...if you can't fix it....CALL THE PLUMBER!


Posted by:

Andrew
04 Feb 2011

There was no need for that nasty swipe at Fred Langa who I have read and enjoyed for years.Bob is trying to explain a fairly complicated procedure that can't be done in just a few words.I the problem is as Tom described that many users are just not up to snuff on this stuff.When I walk the dog I use my Iphone and sometimes run the Wi-Fi locator program. First it works amazingly well annd secondly it is very scary how many Lynksys or Belkin's you find.Totally open that I hop onto to download my mail while the dog pees.You could go War Walking with the I phone!


Posted by:

Mike
09 Feb 2011

If you don't understand how to fool with the settings on your router from within the admin page, just Google your router's name and model number, and you'll find tons of help. Add words like manual or pdf to find the user manual; add words like login or help to find help about specific activities.

I don't think this article was tech heavy, just not long enough. But honestly, computers are not appliances; you can't just plug them in and use them like a refrigerator or a microwave. Like a car, they need occasional maintenance. And even a fridge needs care; I wonder how many people clean the coils and the gaskets? :)


Posted by:

phil
09 Feb 2011

Bob's note in "canoe" comment is bang on. It applies almost entirely to shared cable connections, and wifi networks set up with store bought brand name routers. If your ISP provides DSL hookups, you will not be compromised.

Secondly, even if I'm not a Langa fan boy, the rare couple of articles I've bookmarked are written in lay terms aimed at the non-tech savvy audience. His biggest fault (if you want to call it one) is that he's long winded and self admiring.


Posted by:

Kaye
11 Feb 2011

Yes, it was a little tech heavy for me. I admit I am computer savvy, but not very savvy when it comes to routers and modems. I use Comcast and so I have to trust them. One thing I do is unplug my router when I am not online. Maybe dinosaur behavior, may not be enough but I can rely on all of you to update me! Thanks.


Posted by:

Richard
11 Feb 2011

If routers were more frequently left open smart devices like ipods etc that use wifi would have better access. May not be feasible in big cities but in smaller cities I think it would be good, too many fear mongering articles like this one ie ONE guy had a problem so everyone should lock up, reduces the availability of wifi for those on the go. After all not everyone is a freaking hacker.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Couldn't you make the same argument about why people should leave the car keys in the ignition, just in case someone needs to borrow it? Or leave the front door unlocked, just in case someone wants to sack out on your couch for a while? Keep in mind that in some states, it's actually *illegal* to mooch an open wifi signal.


Posted by:

Alex
12 Feb 2011

Well, now, I have used an open connection at a local McDonalds, there is one at my local Starbucks, there is even an open connection for guests at the community hospital, which I used a lot when my wife had surgery. We need open connections in these situations, as a service to the community.

Making a person liable for an open connection when they have no idea how to close it is just wrong. I agree with Bob about leaving keys in the ignition, and you really need to secure your router, but the FBI should be chasing down the kiddie porn wacko (and using the open connection as bait) instead of hammering on some poor slob who is simply NOT tech savvy. They should be able to figure this out before terrorizing an innocent (and naive) citizen!

Plus, the manuals for most routers just tell us how to hook them up, and do not make it a point to tell us how to lock them down or how it is important to do so.


Posted by:

alphaa10
15 Feb 2011

Thanks to Bob for putting the details for router security into this article. As news stories and field experience indicate, the net is now a playground for organized (and unorganized) crime, and the more we know, the better.

It is precisely the over-general, cosmetic treatment of a technical topic that drives away readers, and serves little purpose. We see that cosmetic approach every day with the health forums, where detailed discussion is almost never the case.

I get inquiries frequently from people who have no idea their neighbor's teenage son could be using their internet connection. Simply looking over nearby networks before logging into one's own reveals many broadcasting networks are completely unsecured. Many users simply open the box and plug everything in, hoping for the best.

Security experts already have established an intruder who penetrates your network can bring malware along with him-- by design or accident. The man whose router had been hacked probably was unknowingly part of a botnet of computers used by criminals as rebroadcast points for distribution.

Network penetration techniques used by hackers, although obscure and passed along through criminal circles, are not hard to learn and utilize.


Posted by:

SEE
19 Jan 2014

You mentioned that we should ask ISP for help with changing the router settings. Cox suggested that they may be getting DNSChanger reports because of my router. When I asked them what online help material they had on router security and privacy settings, I was instructed to - get this - go look on youtube! Clearly Cox Communications is not the kind of ISP you were referring to.


Posted by:

Chris
16 Apr 2014

I have a question, and this is because i am being accused of doing something well beyond my skill level. Is it possible with a windstream sagemcom dsl modem/router to determine how the wireless was turned off. They think i hacked into the router and did this.. I really need to prove this wasn't me. is there something maybe in the logs or is it even possible. Keeping in mind the router had already been changed from the default Username and password to something else when it was set up. and if it it possible for it to have been remotely instead of with a computer directly connected to the device as i know that did not happen because i was in the house the whole day.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I'm not familiar with that router, but it may have a log showing the IP addresses that logged in.


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