Why You Should Change the Default Password on a Wi-Fi Router

Make it harder for hackers — or even just snoopy neighbors — to screw things up

Wi-Fi wireless internet router on dark background

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Most routers ship from the manufacturer with a default password built in. The password is very easy to guess and may even be omitted entirely so that you can have easy first access to the router's settings after purchasing it.

It's recommended to change the password after you get in the first time. If you don't change the password to your router, then anyone with access to it can change its settings and even lock you out.

This is a similar idea to a lock on your house. If someone buys your house but never changes out the locks, your keys will always have access to their home. The same is true with your router: if you never change the key/password, anyone with knowledge of the password will be able to access your router.

A router password isn't the same as a Wi-Fi password. The former is the password needed to access the router's settings, while a password used for Wi-Fi is what guests need to access the internet from your house.

The Default Password Is Well-Known

Default router login information for a Linksys WRT54GL router

Like you read above, new routers typically come with a default admin password that's really easy to guess and remember.

In fact, default router passwords are written in manuals so that if you have trouble setting up your router, you can just refer to the product manual to find the default password.

We've even compiled these default router passwords here by manufacturer: Cisco, Linksys, NETGEAR, D-Link.

Hackers Can Access the Network in Seconds

Hacker and folder icon illustrated on a computer monitor

The router password is well-known and easy to access, and is therefore designed to be changed. If the password isn't changed, any attacker or even a curious individual who comes within signal range of an unsecured router, can log into it. Once inside, they can change the password to whatever they choose, locking you out of the router and effectively hijacking the network.

The signal reach of a router is limited, but in many cases extends outside a home, into the street, and possibly even into the homes of neighbors. Professional thieves may be unlikely to visit your neighborhood just to hijack a home network, but curious teens living next door might give it a try.

Leaving your network open to anyone because you didn't change the default password is asking for a host of troubles. At best, invaders would change your Wi-Fi password or set up alternate DNS server settings. Worse case, they ultimately access your computer files, use your internet connection for illegal purposes, and introduce viruses and many other types of malware into your network, affecting any and all of its computers and devices.

Changing the Router Password

To improve the security of your Wi-Fi network, even if only slightly, change the administrative password on your router, preferably right after installing the unit. You’ll need to log into the router’s console with its current password, locate the settings for changing the router's password, and then choose a new strong password.

WRK54G Router Console

If you also have the option of changing the administrator username (some models don't support this setting), you'd be wise to change it, too. After all, the username is half of the credentials necessary for access, and there's no reason to make a hacker's job easier.

Changing the default router password to a weak one like 123456 doesn't help much. Choose a strong password that's difficult to guess and hasn't been used recently.

To maintain home network security for the long term, change the administrative password periodically. Some experts recommend changing the password to the router every 30 to 90 days. Planning password changes on a set schedule helps to make it a routine practice. It's also a good practice for managing passwords on the internet generally.

If you tend to forget passwords, especially those you use infrequently (and you probably won't be logging into your router very often except to change the password or make a new Wi-Fi password), you can write it down in a safe place — not next to your computer — or in a free password manager.