5 network security tips to prepare yourself against incoming cyber threats

The recent Singhealth data breach has put personal data security under the microscope. 1.5 million people were affected by the cyberattack, of which 160,000 had outpatient prescriptions stolen. 

While incidents like this are not something commonly seen and are hard to account for, we have the power to prepare ourselves from further attacks that occur in our own home. One out of five Singaporeans own at least one smart device, and it is highly likely that we have inputted our personal information while using said devices.

We run the risk of exposing ourselves to similar attacks from cybercriminals if we aren’t thoroughly prepared in terms of network security. In 2018 alone, there were 879 million cases of cyberattacks occurring through home network routers. Thus, we must adequately prepare ourselves against increasing cyberattacks. 

For example, did you know that compromising a simple home device like a smart robot vacuum cleaner could easily reveal your home’s location and layout to the hackers? Your smart refrigerators are not spared either – a quick hack could easily indicate that your stored food is fresh when it has already gone past its expiration dates.

As home devices increasingly get smarter, there’s no time like the present to stay vigilant. Here are several things you need to take note of when securing the security of your home.

1. Use devices that come with external security measures

Home Network: Trend Micro

Smart homes are increasingly becoming more common within Singapore, meaning that a multitude of devices is connected to a single router. Having a single device as the hub of all your data is very risky. If your home network router gets hacked, your entire library of devices is compromised.

Most of the routers we receive either do not have an in-built security system for the network or have one that only filters out certain threats, so you’ll have to look for alternative methods to protect your network.

Home Network: Trend Micro Product

On the bright side, there are devices on the market which provide external security measures for your home network – Trend Micro’s Home Network Security is one such example.

Home Network: Feature Cover

The device connects directly to your network router via Ethernet/LAN cable while you can monitor the status of your network from your phone screen through the Home Network security app which pairs the device. Alongside the security features, the device also comes equipped with an in-built parental control to allow concerned parents to customise time limits for their children. 

It is important to note though that for its services to work, you’ll have to have a subscription. The device itself comes with a two-year subscription and subsequent renewals at priced at S$99 for another year of use.

2. Invest in a VPN

VPNs are more commonly known as a means to keep people from tracking your location via IP address as well as enabling access to a variety of content that otherwise wouldn’t be available to you, such as gaining access to another country’s Netflix library.

However, VPNs also provide additional benefits to help protect your home against network attacks. VPNs provide encryption for network traffic to and from your computer and leads it to a remote server beyond your home’s Wi-Fi router. 

Even if hackers manage to bypass the encryption provided by your router, the VPN adds another layer of encryption to bypass, making it extra hard to obtain your information.

There are plenty of “free VPNs” that are available as extensions on browsers, however, they tend to slow down your Wi-Fi connection speeds to a crawl and also do not provide ample protection. Due to the varied types of network connection in different homes, we suggest researching different paid VPN services that are able to suit your needs within your home.

ExpressVPN provides quality protection across a wide variety of devices, from desktops to smartphones. It contains VPN servers at 95 countries, including Singapore; meaning you can still access local content while overseas.

The service uses 256-bit AES-CBC encryption protocols and also includes HMAC authentication and perfect forward secrecy. It also does not log your IP address, so you can rest assured that the company is not stealing your data.

Prices start S$12.95 per month, S$59.95 for 6 months or S$99.95 for a year subscription. Not the cheapest, but for great security, it is worth the cost.

3. Turn off your router when not in use

Home Network: Switch Off

This one is fairly self-explanatory: simply shut off your home network router whenever you’re finished using it.

The benefits go beyond saving you on your electricity bill and helping the environment, though these aspects are good too. The shorter that your router is active, the possibility of getting hacked is reduced consecutively.

Practise the habit of unplugging your router from the power source as well, as having it on standby still eats up the electricity.

4. Filter your MAC (media access control) address

MAC address is an identifier of the network card and differs from each device that has it. That means that each device has its own unique address and you’ll never find two devices issued with the same MAC address.

Though several devices are able to connect to a single network, a person can easily tell each of them apart by looking into their MAC addresses.

To find out your MAC address, simply type in ipconfig/all on your computer’s command line window. For Mac users, go into your system preferences, click Network, then click on your Wi-Fi’s advanced settings and go to the hardware tab to see it. You can also look up Network Settings to find the MAC address for your mobile device. From there, access your router’s console and look for a setting along the lines of MAC filtering. You may proceed to only allow the MAC addresses that you have listed to connect to your router’s network.

The process might be tedious especially if you have a multitude of devices in your home, but this helps adds an extra layer of security against outside devices.

5. Turn off your Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS)

Home Network: WPS

There is a good chance that your router has a Wif-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) as one of its features. WPS helps to keep devices connected to the router’s network even when the password has been changed. All this is done by inputting an eight-character numeric code in the device’s network settings.

The problem with this technological convenience is that it leaves your network at risk of attacks. Though an eight-character code is needed, WPS only checks the first four characters before allowing access, and this is a major security risk on its own.

Consider disabling your WPS at the expense of a minor convenience to prevent your network from being exposed.

The Trend Micro Home Network Security is available for purchase online and at Harvey Norman stores at S$299. For more information, visit https://shop.sg.trendmicro-apac.com/homenetworksecurity/.

Photos by Soloman Soh of the DANAMIC team.

Russell Matthew Loh

Watcher of films and player of games. Dabble with writing in between.

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