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

Category: Hardware , Security

For the past few weeks, I've been writing a series on router security, and in this final installment I'll tell you what I think it the MOST important security feature that your router should have. “Self-updating” is the basement floor of my house of router standards. I can’t imagine Windows without self-updating, 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

A complete discussion of router security should identify a number of secure routers by make and model. The routers mentioned here 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, ask; 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 the $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.

Router self-updating needs the ability to roll back a botched patch. But botched patches are rarer than router security vulnerabilities or attacks upon them, so I want self-updating. Let's take a brief tour of some good quality self-updating routers.

ASUS RT-AC5300 self-updating router

The Asus RT-AC5300 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.

Google Wi-Fi and its predecessor, OnHub, both self-update. For some reason, Google insists that these updates happen in the middle of the afternoon, which can be annoying when the router reboots. Thankfully, that doesn't happen often, and doesn't take long.

Google Wi-Fi 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 from its coverage surface and provide redundant paths from Point A to Point B.

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.

Netgear’s Nighthawk AC1900 family of secure routers and cable modems are available in low-cost refurbished units as well as new ones starting at $145.

All models in the Linksys “Smart Wi-Fi” family of routers are self-updating. Generally, their model numbers begin with EA or WRT.

Other self-updating mesh network router systems include Eero, Luma, Synology, the Linksys Velop line, and the Securifi Almond 3 system.

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 - “patch kits,” really – per year. Likewise, security bulletins and whitepapers should be fresh, not a decade old.

Be prepared to spend 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 Router Auto-Update? (it should...)"

Posted by:

13 Jul 2018

How do you overcome the ISP's requirement that you only purchase a gateway or router that is on their approved list?

They appear to be the same poor models they provide for rental if you don't buy your own.

I am still trying to figure out if I can use their router, as a bridge, and buy my own, of my choice. The ISP seem to keep track of all previous questions you have asked and work hard so you don't do anything that strays from their norm.

We just want to be internet savvy and safe, but it is getting to be hard work :-(

Posted by:

13 Jul 2018

I agree with Jonathan. When dealing with ISP's, your pretty much at their mercy. They give or rent you a bargain basement router, assure you it's secure and I've yet to see an update on a U-verse router.

Posted by:

13 Jul 2018

@Jonathan - I use my ISP-issued gateway to bring Internet service into my home. However, between that gateway and my networked devices is my Google WiFi mesh router system. Of course, my ISP isn't going to provide support regarding this router, but so what? It works perfectly fine and is a much better option than what's built into the ISP gateway. It seems to me that these "approved" or "supported" lists are really about the ISP's troubleshooting in the case of an issue. They are not going to troubleshoot every router on the market, and I don't expect them to do so. It does not mean that the service will not work with the addition of your own router of choice, though. It just means you'll want to do a little "up front" troubleshooting before calling them if you have an issue.

If I do have any issues that rebooting everything doesn't resolve, I test by removing my own router from the mix and directly connecting the ISP gateway (configuring as needed) to a computer (likely a few computers to rule out issues with the computer's networking hardware.) If the issue exists in this case, THEN I contact my ISP. At that point, they can assist, as there is not additional networking hardware in the mix.

In the past two years, I have had my network go down a couple of times. After testing as described above, it seemed clear to me that it was the ISP gateway that was at fault. I contacted my ISP, they did their testing and verified this to be the case. They brought me out a new gateway in both cases, and even connected it for me. (Of course, I could have done that myself, but it's always nice when they do it for you.) They even connected my personal router back in to be sure all was well before leaving.

As for the Google WiFi mesh router system, I am very happy with it. I live in a two story home, and it's nice to have the three nodes throughout, as I have kind of a lot of devices (25 or so) connected to my network. As I move about the house with my mobile devices, they switch connection seamlessly to the best node in the mesh based on my proximity as well as some other factors. As noted in Bob's article, it is a secure system that self-updates. I've not experienced any issues when the updates occur. The updates complete quickly. The user interface for Google WiFi has improved regularly during the time I have had it (about a year,) so Google's support of the device has been good.

Posted by:

Keith Hartman
13 Jul 2018

No mention of Apple's Airport models. Anyone know their safety checks?

Posted by:

13 Jul 2018


Thank you for that really helpful response to my post. I really did understand everything you wrote and together with Bob's advice gives us the confidence to update.

Posted by:

13 Jul 2018

Does anyone have an older Netgear 6800 router that blanks out occasionally? Mine will flatline dead for a minute or so about once a week for no apparent reason. Netgear trouble shooting says it may be a heat issue with the room temperature rising above 85 degrees. My living room never rises above 77 or 78 on hot days when I am away and am wondering if that may be a reason.

Posted by:

Peter Oh
14 Jul 2018

Ah OK so I'll check, is my router able to self update?
ER, ......well I appear to have:
1) A Wi-Fi Hub (Technicolor TG789)
2) Another "black box" exact function unknown but receives the incoming broadband cable.

Do I have a modem or router; i have no idea.
For those not so tech savvy this is a nightmare; where are the model numbers & why no function related name?

Posted by:

14 Jul 2018

My heart warms to Peter Oh's comment. I too am not very tech savvy on these matters (although I do know that model number is usually on a nameplate or sticker on the device - probably on the back). Here in the UK I'm using a Technicolor TG585 and have no idea if it self updates; does anyone know?

Posted by:

Mike Fallin
14 Jul 2018

To GeordieLad, Peter Oh: yes, you have a modem and a router. The outside line from the street connects to your modem which translates the signal to your router. If you have only one computer, then the modem likely connects to your computer – no router. If you have a printer, it will be wired to your computer. But if you have grown to have two or more computers, wireless devices, Vonage, or TV’s with ROKU or Chromecast, you will have a router, likely a wireless version, because the wireless ROKU and Chromecast will not work. An ISP will have replaced your modem with a wireless modem device that acts as a wireless router to receive its programs. Routers are devices that direct the internet signal to multiple devices by wire (Ethernet) or wireless (WPA2-K). Your journey to begin learning about how to use multiple computing devices in your home has just taken a step to expanding your technical world. An “Ask Bob Rankin” subscription is the best way to expand your knowledge of this ever-growing adventure.

Posted by:

Lady Fitzgerald
15 Jul 2018

Not all updates are good ones (found that out the hard way) and automatic updates can happen at inconvenient times. I prefer to wait before making any updates of anything until I'm sure there aren't any reports of problems, then choose when to update.

Posted by:

16 Jul 2018

Following up on Peter Oh and Lady Fitzgerald. As recent history has shown "auto updates" may be a bad thing, especially if you're not tech savy and don't understand why it's being updated and what is updated. Windows 10 is a case in point. How many systems have been bricked with Windows’ indiscriminate auto updates? Auto-updating a more esoteric device, such as a router, can break you internet access and change network configurations. Besides, if the supposed objective of auto update is "security", there is absolutely NO guarantee that you'll be more secure. In fact, if you take a lesson from Windows, the update itself may be a problem, requiring further updates to fix what the previous update broke – ad infinitum. Other considerations: how do you know that the update is truly to enhance or improve functionality? What are the chances that the update may include spyware, or data collection software, or divert your network traffic through sites you don't expect? If it works, leave it alone.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Stories about Windows Update causing problems get occasional headlines, but they affect a TINY minority of systems. It's an impossible task for the average home user to pick and choose the OS and security updates that are needed.

Posted by:

18 Jul 2018

I purchased my own NetGear #C6300 DocSIS Modem/Router for use with TWC/Spectrum ISP. Before purchase, I had to confirm that #C6300 was qualified/approved for use w/TWC.
moving forward 3 years, the following disclaimer is still posted at the NetGear site.
"Firmware upgrades are pushed down by your ISP. For more information, please see our Knowledge Base" (
Back at the TWC/Spectrum site, the following 3 disclaimers are posted:
*You are responsible for security settings on your wireless network.
*You may have to purchase a new modem if yours becomes outdated.
*You must use an authorized device that won’t cause harm to our network.
Thus and technically, I am NOT allowed to upgrade my firmware from both NetGear and TWC perspectives.

Posted by:

18 Jul 2018

Funny, my Linksys AC1750 Dual-Band updates almost every week or two. I get an email from Linksys saying it was updated. I have no monitor led's on the router so I don't see the blinking led's activity but thats ok. My old Netgear used to drive my cat crazy blinking all the time. He has knocked the router over several times trying to get to the blinking led's.

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