Five questions to ask your Internet installer

Things you should know about your home Internet connection: How to be sure it is safe and waste no time calling tech support.

You decide to change your provider or, perhaps, have an Internet connection installed in your new apartment. One way to go would be to call an installer and quietly wait in the kitchen for the work to be done. But you can also turn this time to your advantage and ask a few questions to help you figure out how to manage your home network and achieve a secure connection.

In this blog, we have more than once given general tips on what to pay attention to when setting up your network. Yet many details may vary from one provider to the next and from one router model to the next, so you might want to put some questions directly to someone who knows a thing or two about your specific connection.

1. What should I do if my Internet service gets disconnected?

If you suddenly go offline, the easiest thing to do is to call tech support. But you probably want to avoid listening to the “your call is very important to us” chant for 20 minutes at a time, especially when the first thing the call center people will do is suggest a few actions that require no professional assistance to accomplish, and which you can learn just as well from the installer who is connecting you this very minute.

Most of the time, completing the basic steps by yourself will get you reconnected. But even if it doesn’t, at least you will know that your call time has not been spent for nothing.

2. How do I make my Wi-Fi inaccessible to outsiders?

Wi-Fi uses radio waves that cannot be contained by walls, so your network will be visible not just to the gadgets in your own home, but also to anyone within a few dozen meters of the router, including in any shared vestibules or adjacent floors. Even if you have an unlimited plan and don’t mind sharing traffic, remember that people can use your network to compromise the devices connected to it.

Thus, if your neighbor’s child downloads some malware while using your Wi-Fi connection, the infection may hit not just his own PC, but also your router, computer, smartphone, and everything else on your network. And if that kid happens to be an aspiring cybercriminal, he may even get hold of your files, browse your personal photos, or delete some important documents.

A shady neighbor may use your Wi-Fi network (and therefore your IP address) to watch illegal porn or download extremist materials — which at the very least could lead to a difficult conversation with a law enforcement officer. The bottom line is, there’s a bunch of very good reasons to secure your line so that as few outsiders as possible can use your Wi-Fi.

3. How do I change my network credentials and router password?

In many cases, your initial network login and password are generated by the provider either before or during setup. These often are either the same for all users or follow a simple enough algorithm: for example, your apartment number for your login and your phone number for your password. In such cases, anyone can easily fit a key to your network — from your free-Internet-loving neighbor to an inveterate criminal. And though the former may not cause much damage, the latter can steal everything you transmit over Wi-Fi, such as your credit card details.

Your router has a password of its own, too. If you know it, you can reconfigure and control the device. This password is set up at the factory, and many manufacturers provide only a few passwords for an entire production batch. Criminal-minded individuals will easily learn them, crack your router, and turn it into a zombie bot, or, again, use it to intercept data.

The best policy would be to change all default passwords the moment you have the opportunity. If you have trouble remembering new combinations, try a password manager to help you out.

4. How do I update router firmware?

A router is much like a computer in some ways. It, too, has an operating system, albeit rather a special one. It is called firmware.

Sooner or later, every piece of firmware will exhibit vulnerabilities that can be used to hack the device. Experts often identify them before they can be used by criminals. After that, router manufacturers release firmware updates to patch the holes. If you neglect these updates, you enable criminals to make your LAN their playground, even if you use the most reliable of passwords to protect it.

So, ask your installer how to update the router firmware. If your router gets so old that no firmware updates are released anymore, you might want to replace it: If hacked, the obsolete device could cost you a pretty penny in damages.

5. Does my Wi-Fi use WPA or WEP? And how do I make sure it is WPA2?

WEP, WPA, and WPA2 are the security standards for Wi-Fi connections: WEP is the oldest and least reliable, WPA is newer, and WPA2 is even more recent and more robust. If your network uses WEP, you have a problem, because it is very easy to crack. It is best to replace it with WPA2. Ask your installer where and how to change the setting.

One last thing: Do not rely on your memory alone! Things you don’t use every day are easily forgotten. Write down or otherwise record your installer’s instructions, and photograph the right settings and wiring configurations. And do share tips and photos with your loved ones.

If you feel that the advice you get from the pro is not enough, on how to make your local network more secure.