The UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.

Wi-Fi security

Computers and many other devices, including smart phones and PDAs, can connect to the internet wirelessly using Wi-Fi. An unsecured Wi-Fi connection makes it easier for hackers to access your private files and information, and it allows strangers to use your internet connection.

These are general tips on changing your router and network settings. You may need to check the instructions for your wireless equipment for the technical details. If you need more guidance on checking or changing your settings, your Wi-Fi equipment supplier or internet provider will provide advice on their websites.

How do I check whether my network is secure?

Home Wi-Fi networks are typically created and accessed through a physical device called a broadband router – also known as a hub or wireless router. You will need to connect to your router to check its security settings. The most important of these settings are the administrator password, the wireless security key and encryption method. There are a number of ways to check what these settings are, including:

Simple method

When connecting to your wireless network from any device for the first time, you will be asked for the wireless security key. If you have not previously changed it, this can usually be found on the base of your wireless router.

If you are not asked for a key the first time you connect your device, then your wireless network is not secure. If you are required to provide a key then communication between your device and the wireless router will be encrypted. However, your wireless router may not be using the strongest encryption method available.

Advanced method

This method will require you to know the wireless router’s IP address, and the administrator’s username and password. Open your browser and enter the router’s IP address into the address bar (something like 192.168.1.1 or 192.168.1.254). You may need to refer to your user guide for more information.

When prompted, enter the administrator’s username and password. Your router settings will allow you to find out whether your connection is already secured and will let you choose a more secure password.

You will also be able to change the administrator’s password.

How do I secure my network?

The following tips will help you to use your Wi-Fi more securely and to protect your personal information.

Change the wireless network’s default name

A Service Set Identifier (SSID) is a name used so you can identify your network. You should change the network name from the router’s default. This can make it harder for anyone to identify the manufacturer of your router and guess its default settings.

Use encryption

Encryption scrambles messages sent over wireless networks so that they cannot be read easily. If your network is not encrypted, enable encryption on the wireless security settings page of your wireless router. There are different forms of encryption, but we suggest that you use the Wi-Fi Protected Access II (WPA2) version because it is stronger than other versions such as Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) and WPA.

On some devices, the encryption method in use will be displayed alongside the name of your wireless network name when you try to connect.

Choose a strong password

Change your password from a default supplied with the router. Make sure you use a password which is easy for you to remember but would be difficult for a stranger to guess, and preferably something with a combination of letters and numbers. Avoid using something obvious such as the name of your street.

Hide your network ID

A router broadcasts its SSID to anyone within range. You can alter the router settings to not broadcast the SSID and therefore avoid alerting hackers to the network’s existence.

Check that your device does not auto-connect to Wi-Fi signals

If your device is set to automatically connect to available open Wi-Fi networks, then you run the risk of automatically connecting to unknown and potentially dangerous networks. You should switch off auto-connect on your device settings page – refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for more details.