How to Encrypt Your Wireless Network

It's important to use the correct encryption setting

computer graphic of a lock with connections
Photo: Alengo / Getty Images

Have you enabled encryption on your wireless router? Encryption is one of the most important steps in securing your Wi-Fi network, so it's not something to skip over.

When you enable encryption, the Wi-Fi network requires a password so that not just anybody can connect. However, it's not just the password that's important but also the encryption type.

There are multiple options your router might support when it comes to wireless encryption. If you're using an outdated encryption method, attackers don't even need your password because they can just break the old encryption.

How to Check If Your Router Is Using Encryption

You can use your phone or tablet to see if a wireless network is using encryption. All you need to know is the name of the network.

Android Wi-Fi settings
  1. Open your device's settings. There's usually a Settings app on the device that you can tap.

  2. Locate the network in question.

  3. Do you see a padlock icon next to the network? If so, it's using at least the most basic form of encryption, possibly the strongest type.

    However, even if basic security is enabled, it could be using an outdated form of encryption.

  4. See if the connection shows the encryption type. You might see WEP, WPA, or WPA2.

Why You Need Encryption & Why WEP Is Weak

If your wireless network is wide open with no encryption enabled, you're practically inviting neighbors and other freeloaders to steal the bandwidth that you're paying good money for.

Maybe you're the generous type, but if you're experiencing slow internet speeds, it might be because you have a bunch of folks leeching off your wireless network.

There was a time when WEP was the standard for securing wireless networks, but it was eventually cracked and is now easily bypassed by even the most novice hackers, thanks to cracking tools available on the internet.

After WEP came WPA. WPA had flaws, too, and was replaced by WPA2, which isn't perfect but is currently the best available offering for protecting home-based wireless networks.

If you set up your Wi-Fi router many years ago, then you could be using one of the old, hackable encryption schemes such as WEP, and should consider changing to WPA2.

How to Enable WPA2 Encryption on Your Router

All routers are different, but with a little poking around you should have no problem finding the encryption settings for your router.

  1. This is done by accessing the router's IP address as a URL, such as http://192.168.1.1 or http://10.0.0.1. You'll then be prompted to enter the router's username and password.

    If you don't know any of this information, check the router manufacturer's website for help or reset your router to restore the factory default settings.

  2. Locate the wireless security settings. Your router might call this section Wireless Security, Wireless Network, or something similar.

    In this example, the settings are in Basic Setup > Wireless > Security:

    Comtrend wireless security settings
  3. Change the encryption option to WPA2-PSK.

    You might see a WPA2-Enterprise setting; the enterprise version of WPA2 is intended more for corporate environments and requires a more complicated setup process.

    If WPA2 isn't an option, you may have to upgrade the router's firmware or buy a new wireless router if your current one is too old to support an upgrade to WPA2.

  4. This is what users will enter when they need to get on your Wi-Fi network, so it should not be easy to guess or easy to remember, as tempting as that may be.

    If you have to, store the complex password in a password manager so that you'll always have easy access to it.

  5. Click Save or Apply to submit the changes. The router might have to reboot for the settings to take effect.

  6. Reconnect all your wireless devices by selecting the correct network name and entering the new password in each device's Wi-Fi settings page.

You should periodically check your router manufacturer's website for firmware updates that they might release to fix security vulnerabilities associated with your router. The updated firmware might also contain new security features.