Does Your Internet Router Auto-Update? (it should...)

Category: Hardware , Security

Today I'll tell you what I think is the MOST important security feature that your Internet router should have. “Self-updating” is the basement floor of my house of router standards. I can’t imagine using Windows without automatic security updates, and keeping a router’s operating system patched is no less critical. Read on for my recommendations on secure, self-updating routers...

Best Security-Minded Home Routers

Do you know the last time you updated your router's firmware? Unless you have one that automatically updates itself, you're probably vulnerable to a few dozen security issues. A recent router security study focusing on Wi-Fi routers from nine well-known manufacturers found over 200 potential security vulnerabilities. “All devices showed significant security vulnerabilities that could make a hacker’s life much easier,” said Florian Lukavsky, CTO of IoT Inspector.

A complete discussion of router security should identify a number of secure routers by make and model. The routers mentioned below are not the only secure routers on the market, but they meet important standards for being considered more secure than the run-of-the-mill home router. If you’re not certain a router can update itself, check specs and reviews. If you don’t get a straight answer, pass on that router.

I say self-updating is a deal maker or breaker knowing full well that a botched router update can make even the "smartest" device as dumb as a brick. That happened in August 2017, when smart lock maker, Locksafe, pushed the wrong update to its RemoteLock L6i devices; hundreds of those $470 locks lost the remote lock/unlock feature that prompted AirBnB to recommend it to hosts. Even worse, the locks could not be repaired remotely, but had to be mailed back and forth; until it was fixed, an L6i was just another deadbolt lock.

ASUS RT-AC5300 self-updating router

Router self-updating needs the ability to roll back a botched patch. (See this article on how to rescue from a failed firmware update.) I have not seen any articles concerning router update problems in the past few years, but I regularly see headlines along the lines of "Millions of routers need security updates right away!" Botched patches are much rarer than router security vulnerabilities or attacks upon them, so I'll go with self-updating. Let's take a brief tour of some good quality self-updating routers.

The Asus AX-6000 router (pictured above) might scare away hackers just with its intimidating design. It has an exceptional range and Asus AIProtection, a cloud-based router security service pioneered and operated by security firm Trend Micro. The AX-6000 offers commercial-grade security but is Certified for Humans, meaning setup is made easy for non-experts. Retail price is $349.99, currently on sale at Amazon for $259.99 with free Prime shipping.

Google Wi-Fi is another self-updating router. This is a mesh network router system. It is sold in bundles of 3 small devices that can be placed anywhere in a home, like sachets of potpourri. Each device automatically connects to others in its range, creating a resilient “mesh” of access points that can grow in any direction, providing a coverage surface up to 4500 square feet. Parental controls let set screen time limits, restrict adult content, and pause Wifi to specific devices so your teenage kids can get to sleep before 3am. Retail price is $199.99, currently on sale at Amazon for $177.

In my article [HOWTO] Protect Your Router Now, I list several signs that your ISP-supplied router may have weak security, and some tips on supplementing or replacing it with your own router.

The Linksys WRT3200ACM Dual-Band Open Source Routersare self-updating. The OpenWRT open-source firmware on this model is certified for MacOS (10.X or higher) and Windows (7, 8 and 10), and is a favorite of techies who want more flexibility to customize or optimize certain networking functions. In addition to providing WiFi to your desktop, laptop or mobile gadgets, the WRT3200 can connect to eSATA and USB hard drives, network printers, and flash drives. The Linksys Smart Wi-Fi app allows you to monitor and control your network from a mobile device. On sale at Amazon for $229.99.

Other self-updating network router systems include Eero, Luma, Synology, and the Linksys Velop line.

A Patch In Time Saves Bacon

Whatever router manufacturer you prefer, you should check to see how seriously it takes security. One way to do that is to visit the manufacturer’s web site and try to find evidence of past security issues. There should be at least 2-3 firmware updates (sometimes called “patch kits”) per year. Some of the above routers automatically update on a NIGHTLY basis. Likewise, security bulletins and whitepapers should be fresh, not a decade old.

Be prepared to spend a bit more for security. Good programmers, prompt patches as vulnerabilities are discovered, and a mature, reliable self-updating routine are all essential today. Such things cost money, but they may save your bacon.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Does Your Internet Router Auto-Update? (it should...)"

Posted by:

Ralph Sproxton
07 Dec 2021

Hi, Bob. On your advice, I regularly use Patch My PC to update my software. But a friend who doesn't update his software says, "Hackers hit corporations and people with a lot of money; no one is going to bother hacking you and me, so updating is a waste of time."

I know the dangers, but isn't it highly unlikely that I'm going to be the target of any malicious hacker taking advantage of my system's vulnerability?

Posted by:

Ruth C
07 Dec 2021

Thanks for the article Bob.

I bought my own router (I am NOT renting it thru my ISP). It's a Netgear C3700 model with firmware version 2.02.23. The Netgear website says: "You cannot manually update your NETGEAR cable modem or modem router’s firmware. NETGEAR provides your ISP with the latest firmware and your ISP updates your firmware."

Would that be considered a self updating router?

Posted by:

07 Dec 2021

I liked this article on routers that are able to update themselves automatically.Updating a internet router can be a chore and needs to be done correctly.As long as the update server IP address stays the same and your ISP does not block the IP address,it should be no problem.

Posted by:

07 Dec 2021

Ruth, Netgear is correct. Any cable modem or cable modem/router combination has to be updated from the ISP. That is the way the DOCSIS protocol works. That's why I have a cable modem and separate router rather than a combination. That way I can manage the router firmware myself.

Posted by:

07 Dec 2021

My ISP provides a modem/WiFi router in one unit. For the technically challenged that is great. But, I much prefer to use my own WiFi router so I only use the modem portion of their unit. The WiFi portion of the ISP’s router is disabled.

Posted by:

08 Dec 2021

I think you have previously recommended the site at as a way of checking your router's security?

Posted by:

Paul S
08 Dec 2021

I have a Linksys EA8500 purchased 2/2017 which auto updates. However, there is only one firmware update, 3/20/2019 since I purchased it. It is still at version 1.1.9 firmware. Not a good record.

Posted by:

08 Dec 2021

I have an ASUS RT-AC68U wireless router. My problem is that I can't remember the username to log into it (the password is no problem).
Is there any way to find out what it is or would I need to reset it to factory settings and lose my settings as well as the password and username?
I called tech support and they can't help unless I know my username to log into it even after I have given them the serial number directly from the router.

Posted by:

08 Dec 2021

Therrito: There is a reset button or hole (use a pin to push it) on the back of your Asus RT-AC68U router. Press that and hold for ~15 seconds.

Afterward the router will be reset to default settings. Accessing it at the default IP address (read the label on the router!) you will be able to change the password, wifi name and password, and check the firmware date. Auto-updating is a fairly new feature of Asus routers, the firmware you have may need to be updated to enable that feature.

Posted by:

09 Dec 2021

My ISP limits the choice of routers their customers may buy themselves to use on their system.

Can this be overcome by using their modem plus my own choice of router, using one not on the ISP allowed list, but one that is highly recommended by oh, maybe Bob Rankin?

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