Wi-Fi is a Wi-Fi Alliance standard. WiFi is used to refer to generic wireless.
Don't be a victim! Malicious cyber actors may leverage your home network to gain access to personal, private, and confidential information.
Help protect yourself, your family, and your work by practicing cybersecurity-aware behaviors, observing some basic configuration guidelines, and implementing the following mitigations on your home network, including:
- Upgrade and update all equipment and software regularly, including routing devices
- Exercise secure habits by backing up your data and disconnecting devices when connections are not needed
- Limit administration to the internal network only
- — National Security Agency
Consider these recommendations to ensure that your network is secure:
- Create a security policy for the computers in your home or business.
- One person should be responsible for network configuration and security.
- Use only currently-supported software and hardware.
- Use quality security software.
- Follow best security practices to avoid phishing attacks and identity theft.
See the National Security Agency's guidelines: Best practices for securing your home network (PDF).
What is a Network?
In simple terms, networking is connecting two or more computers or devices together to share files, high-speed Internet access or resources like printers and scanners.
A network is a collection of interconnected computers and other devices that are capable of talking to each other.
- The most immediate network is the one inside your home or business (your home network).
- The next is your connection to your ISP (another network).
- Your ISP connects to the Internet (a world-wide network) through a regional collection of related networks.
Connections to the network can be either wired (via a network cable) or wireless (via WiFi) or both.
- Devices like smartphones and tablets only connect via WiFi (wirelessly).
- Most recent laptops only connect via WiFi. Older ones can also connect via a network cable.
- Most desktop computer connect via a network cable but many recent computers have built-in WiFi.
Let's have a look at how each of these may be involved in the chain of connections from your computer to the website or service you're trying to reach.
Your Home Network
Your most basic home network is your computer connected directly to a modem provided by your ISP (usually a router/modem combination).
The router provides access to all other connected devices connected to your network as well as to the Internet. Whether these devices can talk to each other (i.e., share information) depends upon how the network and the devices are configured.
Your ISP (Shaw, Telus, Rogers, etc.) provides your connection to the Internet via their own network (which includes all their customers' networks).
If the problem is with the ISP's connection to the Internet, there is nothing you can do except wait for them to restore access. You may need to reset your router once connection is restored.
Your ISP then connects through a network of additional connections to the Internet (designed originally to withstand a nuclear attack by switching automatically to whatever routing is available).
Public networks include free community WiFi networks, coffeeshop WiFi, public library networks and other similar Internet connection that you don't control.
You may be connected using your own laptop, tablet or smartphone or you may be using a public computer (such as those provided by a library or school).
If you're having difficulty connecting on a public network, you'll need to talk to the staff to determine how to resolve the issue. Sometimes the staff have no control.
You Can't Trust Public Networks
If you are using public access from a connection that you don't control (something other than your home network) or one that isn't secured properly (you haven't changed the default passwords or enabled security) then you are placing your computer and data at risk.
Everyone on an insecure (public) network such as a coffee shop can potentially “see” the information you are sending and received on that WiFi service. All it takes is some software that is easily obtained on the Internet.
Even if you're using a gated network (one that requires you to sign on), unless you control that network, you can't trust it.
NEVER do Internet banking or similar risky activity on a public network.
Cellular networks are those provided by cellular ISPs. These networks are separate from the typical home or business network and usually have relatively small data caps. Cellular networks are fairly reliable (the number of cell towers and their location determines the strength of your signal) but do sometimes go down.
Cellular service is more secure than free WiFi. However, just like your home network, everything you do on your cell is visible to your cellular provider unless you use a VPN.
Other than ensuring your cellular service is turned on for your device, there is little you can do to resolve connection issues other than to move to an area with better reception or call your cellular provider for assistance.
Securing Your Network
It is important that you secure your own network. It is beyond the scope of connection issues, but there are resources on this site that will help you to do that.
At the very least, you should change the default passwords used to configure your router and connect to your WiFi.
Setting Up Your Network
Creating networks has become easier and less expensive. Most high-speed ISPs provide some sort of a router-modem combination.
The process involves three basic steps:
- Configure your router;
- Secure your router; and
- Add other computers and devices.
Considering What You Need
Before you begin, lets go over some basic preparations. You'll want to determine what you need your network to do so you plan for those requirements and any future expansion.
This includes how your network of computers will be connected as well as how much Internet capacity you need and how many devices may be active in your home or office.
How Much Do You Need?
- Light users: If you only use the internet for basic tasks like email and occasional web browsing, you won't need a lot of speed.
- Moderate users: If you use the internet to stream video, music, or occasionally to do online gaming, you'll need more speed.
- Heavy users: If you download a lot of music and movies or play online games frequently, you'll need a fast connection.
- — Verizon
Verizon's “What is a good internet speed?” is based in the U.S.
While Verizon's plans and discounts are irrelevant to Canadians the guidelines for determining the sort of bandwidth requirement including those for remote workers & distance learners, file sharing, video streaming and gaming are excellent.
You'll then need to take that information and seek out similar capabilities in plans available from the providers in your area.
There's more discussion about the factors affecting bandwidth requirements below.
Wired or Wireless?
Further down is a discussion about the capabilities of both wired and wireless connections. Wireless speeds and bandwidth has increased significantly. While this may still affect how you place your equipment and affect how many devices can use your network simultaneously, it avoids having to place computers beside your router or drilling holes in walls.
How Many Devices?
First, consider what devices will need connection to the Internet and to each other. The largest part of this for most people will be easy access to the Internet.
Think of the Internet connection like a hose or a pipe. Think of using a garden hose and the massive hoses used by fire fighters. One is fine for watering the grass but you need the other if you wish to put out a house fire or pump out a flooded basement.
If you're only connecting one computer for surfing the Web, social media and checking your email, your needs are going to be far less than a family where there are four computers, four smartphones, two tablet or more.
Working from Home?
If you're working from home (or attending online courses) then the Internet is more than a form of entertainment. Weaknesses in security and dropouts can affect your business or education.
If you are using online meeting software like Zoom or Webex, your experience will be improved if you have sufficient bandwidth and your spouse or kids won't be forced to stop using the Internet during important meetings.
Don't forget the various smart components in your home like security cameras, locks, assistants (e.g., Google Nest Mini), Amazon Ring, thermostats, light controls and more. More and more devices are requiring access to the Internet including the fancy exercise equipment you see on TV, TVs themselves, streaming services, and much more.
Think About Future Use
Don't just think of what you're doing today, consider the potential for the next several years. Your needs are highly likely to increase as you use higher definition video and do more streaming than traditional TV programming.
It isn't uncommon for ISPs to require you to commit to a contract to get their best prices. Don't be locked into a plan that may not work for you or your family next year.
Do You Need to Share Between Devices?
Today's operating systems (e.g., Windows, macOS) are designed to start working on a project on your computer then finish it on your phone or tablet. You may also wish to sync files between a desktop and laptop computer or share family photos with all the devices in your home.
Knowing what you plan to do enables you to prepare your network.
- How to find the upload and download speed on your PC.
- How to share an Internet connection.
- How to connect two computers.
- How to view files on a networked computer.
- How to network computers: Windows or macOS.
Wired or Wireless?
Most current routers provide for two types of connection to the network:
- Wired (LANs) using Cat 5 (or faster Cat 6) Ethernet cables. Routers usually provide for up to four wired connections.
- Wireless (WLANs) using radio signals that carry the information between the various devices on the network. Wireless networks allow you to connect dozens of devices.
The most secure method on connecting is by using network cables. However, unless you're able to run these cables throughout your home or office, the location and number of devices that can connect this way is limited.
WiFi Expands Accessibility
Wireless networks are easier to set up, but there may be limitations because of the walls or other interference between the router and certain areas in your home or office.
Tablets, smartphones, printers, TVs, virtual assistants (e.g., Google Home) and many other devices are now capable of connecting with wireless technology. You can add this capability to some devices with third-party hardware.
WiFi Security Considerations
There are also special WiFi security concerns.
Be wary of any device that requires you to downgrade the security of your wireless network. Most such devices are older and you have to remember that wireless signals can reach the neighbours and out to the street in some cases.
Connecting Through Electrical Wires
Although there has been a lot of progress in wireless technology using repeaters and other options, some locations are difficult to reach.
Special networking hardware designed to connect through the electrical wiring in the building can bring connectivity where you have difficulty running either network cabling or getting a reliable wireless signal.
This is not a good solution if you're in an apartment, basement suite, duplex or similar situation where other tenants are sharing the same electrical box.
The main issue with all Powerline network devices having the same out-of-the-box default network name is when you live in an apartment, dorm, or other situation where the electrical wiring is shared. If two or more different apartments start using Powerline networking products with the same network name, then they are essentially sharing their network with each other, which could lead to all manner of security and privacy issues.
Buying a Router
While the router supplied by your ISP might work well at home, if you're a business or are having difficulties with your network you can try these resources:
- Choosing the best wireless router.
- Best WiFi routers for a large house or office.
- The 8 Best WiFi Extenders.
How your Internet comes into your home or office as well as what is supplied can differ with your ISP. It is mostly Shaw or Telus in Victoria:
The following sites have more information about planning and setting up a network:
- How home networking works on Howstuffworks.
- How to set up and optimize your wireless router from PCMag.
- The ultimate guide to home networking from PCWorld.
- Home Network on Wikipedia.
Configure Your Router
The router controls access to the Internet as well as connections between computers and devices on your network.
Take care to secure your router. Without proper security and updating your router can be compromised, endangering the devices on your network.
Access Your Wi-Fi Router's Settings
Having trouble with your wireless?
Here's how to sign into your router to change your home network's name, password, security options, and various wireless settings.
Be sure you understand the changes you're making.
This is a very brief overview of the connection process. You will need to carefully follow the instructions that came with your router which may differ from this generic guide. Most routers come with setup instructions.
Your router may be configured as a separate high-speed modem connected to an external router or as an all-in-one combined modem/router supplied by your ISP (most common). See Routers: Your Hardware Firewall for special instructions on securing your router.
Don't Use Wireless to Configure a Router
Always configure a router using a wired connection. A wireless connection risks losing the signal when the router reboots during setup.
Connect to the router directly with an Ethernet cable until the setup and configuration is completed. Once complete, you can return to a wireless connection if you wish.
The first step is to setup and configure your router.
Follow these steps in order (unless directed differently by your router's installation guide) so that any problems can be rectified before you move on:
- Make sure the high-speed connection is working on the computer connected to the modem or router.
- You don't want to complicate things by tackling the rest of the network before determining that your Internet connection is active.
- Make a note of the items that your router installation guide suggests you record.
- You will need this later to configure the router.
- Install the router's software when setup tells you to.
- This software makes changes to your computer. Be sure to include any recovery options.
- Advanced users may prefer to use their operating system's configuration tools.
- Remove the network cable from the back of the computer and plug it into the WAN port on the back of the router.
- Connect a network cable from one of the numbered ports to the back of the computer.
- It does not matter which numbered port but I tend to use port 1 for my main computer.
- Do not use an “uplink” port.
- Set your router up using the instructions provided by the manufacturer.
- This is where you will need the settings you recorded earlier.
- This sometimes requires rebooting the modem, router and computer.
- Check your Internet connection on your computer.
If the computer can't access the Internet, you'll need to figure out where you went wrong before continuing.
Secure Your Router
Once you have your router working, log into the router software interface and ensure that you've secured your router from being hacked.
The configuration varies by manufacturer, so have a look at your router's manual or help menu.
Use a network cable to perform these options.
Configuring the security settings is usually achieved by entering a local IP address (e.g., https://192.168.1.1) into your browser's address bar.
- Replace the default router login password with a unique complex password and optimally the login username as well.
- Disable any remote access to your router (check your router's documentation to locate and configure this setting).
- Replace the default WiFi security and passwords with the best security your device allows.
Don't Configure Routers Online
Some router manufacturers (such as Netgear) don't provide a local IP address. Instead, they have moved the configuration of their routers into the cloud:
Type http://www.routerlogin.net in the address field of your browser, and then click Enter.
Configuring routers on the Internet makes it easier for your router to be hacked, especially if HTTPS is disabled.
The site now redirects to the more secure
Try These Local Addresses
First, try entering 192.168.1.1 or 192.168.0.1 into your browser's address bar.
If these don't work, search for documentation for your particular brand and model of router. Often you can find answers in online forums.
Update Your Router Firmware
Just like other hardware and software, it is very important that you update your router hardware and software when possible, replacing it when it is no longer secure.
Ensure your router's firmware is always up to date.
Replace Aging Routers
If you can't update your router and it uses wireless G (or older) or is vulnerable to the KRACK security flaw replace your router.
If your router is provided by your ISP, you might talk to them about upgrading. Alternatively, disable WiFi and use only wired connections.
KRACK WiFi Security Flaw
A WiFi critical flaw in the WPA2 security standard, KRACK, affected virtually all devices. Windows and Apple devices are only partially affected and currently supported versions have been patched with updates.
WiFi security protects your network from being attacked or used by unauthorized devices to access the Internet.
Don't compromise your WiFi security by allowing outside users (guests) to use your primary network. Instead, set up a guest WiFi network so that guests can access to the Internet but remain isolated from the main network.
Wired Network More Secure
Wired networks are more secure because they don't transmit information except to the connected devices via the network cables.
However, WiFi is more convenient and more practical for most home users.
I strongly recommend that you disable WPS.
WPS is “push-button” technology that makes configuring devices on a wireless network easier. Easier, but a serious security risk.
Secure Your Wireless Network
It is very important that you secure your wireless network — you do not want your network or Internet service accessed by others. It is relatively easy using the tools provided by the manufacturers of wireless equipment.
Since no encryption is totally secure, use a wired network if you are concerned about confidential information. Be sure to disable the wireless capability on the router.
A wireless key provides security for your wireless network just like a password provides security for your email account:
- The WiFi SSID is like your email address.
- The WiFi security key is like your email password.
In both cases, this information is public.
There are several protocols used to secure wireless networks. The most common are (in order of increasing security):
- WPA; and
WEP Not Recommended
WEP is an obsolete encryption method.
- WEP security uses only the digits 0–9 combined with letters A–F and sends a portion of the WEP security key each with each transmission so it is less secure than more recent encryption methods.
- The longer the key, the harder it is to break, and is therefore more secure. Use 128-bit encryption where possible and always mix letters and numbers in a random order.
WPA was designed to overcome all know security issues with WEP. WPA utilizes 128-bit encryption keys and dynamic session keys to ensure the wireless network's privacy and security. There are two general variations:
- WPA-Personal uses a pass-phrase or pre-shared key (sometimes referred to as personal mode) and is used for home and small office networks. This is sometimes referred to as WPA-PSK.
- WPA-Enterprise verifies network users through an authentication server and is used in large networks.
WPA2 uses an AES encryption algorithm for increased security. Most current routers support some form of WPA. WPA2-Personal and WPA2-Enterprise versions operate in the same manner as their WPA counterparts.
Check out these sites for more information about wireless security:
- The Wi-Fi Alliance has lots of resources on wireless networking.
- How to set up a wireless network (WiFi) connection.
- How to connect to WiFi in Windows 10.
- 10 Wi-Fi configuration tips from Apple for better wireless connectivity, performance.
Adding Other Computers
Once you are sure the main computer is working correctly and the network is secured, you can connect the other computers and devices to your network — one at time.
- Add the other computers that will be connected using a network cable into one of the remaining numbered plugs. Be sure to check their connectivity as you go. You may need to reboot each computer so that it sees the new network address or change the IP address.
- Add the wireless computers one at a time. You will need to configure each computer's wireless receiver according to the instructions you got with the unit.
- Add any other wireless devices like printers, scanners, smart phones, tablets, etc. one at a time. Use the instructions and/or software that came with these devices. Once connected most will prompt you to verify access by printing or scanning a test page. Do this on your primary computer first, then verify the capability where remote printing is enabled elsewhere on the network.
See sharing files between computers to learn how to share files between computers on your network.
Guest WiFi Accounts
When you add guest users to your network, you want to separate visitors' access from the rest of your network.
This protects your network from any threats from unknown devices and prevents access to any file sharing protocols.
Protects Your WiFi Password
You also don't compromise your WiFi password.
Many routers offer dual-band access (two bands, one at a higher speed). Each is protected by a separate password and runs its own network.
Give priority to your own requirements by using the higher bandwidth WiFi and the wired network for the internal network. The lower bandwidth WiFi will provide access to visitors and unknown devices without compromising performance on your in-house network.