Is a Wi-Fi Router or Combination Device Enough or Do I Need a Firewall?

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Is a Wi-Fi Router or Combination Device Enough or Do I Need a Firewall?

We hear these questions a lot during Wyoming’s Cybersecurity Competition for Small Business.

My Wi-Fi Router has some firewall capabilities, is it enough to protect my home business or my small office?

or

I have just one box from my internet service provider, what is it and is it enough to protect my home business or my small office?

What is your risk tolerance?

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First, everything in cybersecurity depends on your risk tolerance, so as you read this article, if you feel uncomfortable with what you learn, listen to your gut.  Your Spidey sense may be telling you that you want something different for your company or home office.

How do I research?

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Second, let’s figure out how to answer this question for yourself. Look at the device that you have in your home or your office. Turn it over and find out the brand name and the model name. As an example, let’s say you have a TPLink Wi-Fi Router Archer AX10.

Great, you have the make and model. Next, go to the TPLink website, search for the model name and download the user guide. If the model name isn’t listed on the TPLink site, it isn’t supported anymore, and your Spidey sense should be telling you that there’s something wrong. If it isn’t supported any longer, then it isn’t getting updates anymore, and your office or home is at risk. Time to replace it.

But, in the case of the Archer AX10, it is still supported, so looking at the 107 page user guide feels more than a bit overwhelming. No, you don’t have to read the entire thing! There are four things you need to know.

  1. How do I change the default administrative password on the router?
  2. How can I update the router?
  3. Can I set up a guest network for the riskier devices in my office or home? (Think Xboxes, cell phones, tablets, TVs, and anything connected to the internet that doesn’t have antivirus software.)
  4. What are the security features of the router?

Change the Admin’s Default Password

If you are leasing the device from your internet service provider, it can be a bit difficult to address the default password but it’s possible. Try to log in using the default user ID and password published in the manual. If you can get in, then others can too, and the default password should be changed with the instructions in the manual.

Learn How to Update the Router’s Software, called Firmware

For updates, search the table of contents for Upgrade the Firmware, Firmware, or Manage the Router. One of those will get you to the right place where there will be instructions on how to turn on the auto-update feature.

Use the Guest Network Option, If You Have it

For a guest network, search “guest” in the table of contents. If your router allows you to create a separate guest network, GREAT! Create a separate password for your guest network and put any internet connected device on it that doesn’t have antivirus software on it (Alexa, Roomba, Xbox, cell phones, tablets, etc.). Change the password on your private wireless network and use it for your workstations and laptops that connect to your bank accounts. You will need to keep your wireless printer on the private network so your workstations and laptops can access it.  

What Security Features Exist

Finally, let’s talk about the security features of the router. Search on the word “security” and often it will come up as Network Security. This is the section to read to find out about the router’s security features. Beware, though, just because the user guide may use the word ‘firewall’ in the security features, a router is not a firewall. Most routers use the word ‘firewall’ when they mean ‘stateful packet inspection’ which means that they validate the traffic that is passing through the router. Routers also let you control the devices and websites you want to allow or disallow. And there may be another security feature or two, giving you a nice feeling, but if you compared those features with a full firewall device they wouldn’t stand up.

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CyberWyoming provides a firewall for each employee’s home office. When one of our employees compared their wireless router traffic with the traffic the firewall, they found that hundreds of suspicious attempts were blocked by the firewall but not even recognized by the wireless router.

So what about the one box that you lease from your internet service provider? What does it do?

Well, it could be a cable modem/router combination with some firewall capabilities like we described above, but it isn’t a firewall.

And, just from a commonsense perspective, if you have a separate cable modem and a wireless router leased from your internet service provider, both devices have the capability of using different passwords. Two passwords, one for each device. If you add a full firewall, now you have a third password on a third device between you and the internet, and the full firewall has more protection options. Full firewall capabilities include vulnerability scanning, virtual private network options, advanced filtering, intrusion detection, intrusion prevention, isolation options for riskier devices, and more. A personal favorite of mine is when my son is loud with his friends on a Friday night and wakes me up, I can roll over, find my phone, and shut off the internet to the Smart TV from my phone.

How do you pick a firewall?

Search for “best small business firewall appliance” or “best home office firewall appliance” and when you find one that looks interesting, see if there is a review of it onhttps://www.pcmag.com/ or https://www.macworld.com/. There are home and office firewalls priced as low as a couple of hundred dollars. Talk to your local IT professional once you have narrowed it down to two devices in your price range and see which one they would use in their home.

For more information, check out PDS Manage’s article about firewalls versus combo devices. https://pdsmanage.com/shortcomings-of-isp-supplied-networking-equipment/

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