Has Your Router Been Hacked ?
Jacques du Rand 2020-05-25
Your WiFi/LTE and Fibre Router is the central point of your internet connection.
What happens when hackers take over your router or a new security flaw is discovered ? There are hundreds if not thousands of new security flaws being discovered everyday for routers - welcome to the internet.
In this article we will show you the importance of router safety and how to update your router’s own software (firmware). It’s easier than you think. In most cases if you can use a browser, you’re 85% there!
We will even include a small video clip.
Just Tell Me The How
Open your router's web based administration page - usually the IP-address is one of these
Type one of these addresses into your browser. You should be greeted by the login page with your router’s branding and logo.
It will ask for a password and, unless you reset it, it will be the default from the manufacturer. Be sure to change it if it was on the default! Most are as simple as admin/admin or admin/password! So it’s easy to see why it could get hacked if you don’t reset it.
You can change the administrator password in the web interface as well.
Search the menu options for “Firmware Updates” and follow the onscreen instructions - see video further down. It might be a Sub-Menu under say “Maintenance” or “Administration”.
One you have located the menu, it will ask you to download and apply the update, all of this happens inside your browser - very easy , click-wait-click!
Some routers will notify you automatically about a new Firmware via the web page and you can just apply it by clicking the notification. Keep an eye out for a flashing message, or bubble notification.
What is good to note is that once the update has downloaded, it will switch off your WiFi momentarily while the router updates and restarts - don’t be alarmed, it will come back automatically once the firmware is updated.
We suggest checking at least once a month if there are any updates available.
That is the entire process, but read on for additional info and tips!
Internet Connection Options
So let's take a step back and discover what router software upgrades are and why you should care.
When it comes to internet connection options, the below are the typical scenarios in South African homes for internet setups and their hardware components. You will likely fall into one of these categories:
An optical fibre cable comes into your house and plugs into the first black or white magic box (the one without antennas) called the ‘Fibre ONT/CPE device’ to be precise.
The Fibre ONT/CPE connects via an ethernet cable and RJ45 connector to your WiFi Router (little black or white box, usually with antennas).
So when we say WiFi Router, Fibre Router, or just Router we refer to the last box with the antennas.
Usually you will only have one little black or white box (most of them have internal antennas) that acts as your connection to the nearest cellphone tower AND has a built in WiFI Router.
Also just one little black or white box usually with antennas, the box your phone line plugs into.
Why The WiFi Router ?
The WiFi Router is like the beating heart of your home or office internet connection, and just like your heart it pays hugley to look after it. Wait, this sounds complicated. We promise it is not !
WiFi Router Basics
Your WiFi router can be likened to a very small and specialized computer. It takes an internet signal from outside, does a bunch of stuff electrical engineers and signal experts get excited about, and converts this signal into “internet” (Ethernet for the experts) for your house.
Just like your home PC, this small computer needs an Operating System (OS) and some
“application” to perform this feat of
Think of it like when, on your home PC, you need Windows 10 (Operating System) and Word (application) to write a document. Same with your router - it needs an OS and an application to give you the internet. The combined name for this is “firmware” and mostly refers to the application side of things. Again don’t worry too much about the details - technicalities.
Why Do I Need to Upgrade My Router's Firmware ?
Hackers and security flaws are everywhere. Everytime a new piece of software is created there is a small chance that a bug might slip in that might make it possible for a hacker to take complete control of your Router and internet connection. This is common to ALL router manufactures. Some are better than others, yes, but trust me, all will have security flaws from time to time.
We asked Robert De Wit (Technical Public Relations) from ASUS South Africa how important is it to keep your router’s firmware up to date:
“The importance of firmware updates is twofold; first, is to ensure that your device has the latest security patches leaving you less vulnerable to security exploits, and second is to enhance your device’s performance by optimising system processes, making them more efficient”.
Robert De Wit - June 2020
Why Do The Mad Russians Want To Hack My Router ?
Most of the time it is not to get your famous potjiekos recipe you store under “My Documents”, but to
- enlist your router in a brutal war on the internet DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service Attacks) or worse;
- send email spam, they can effectively turn your router into a mini-email server and start sending spam emails to anyone at scale. The internet is very quick to pick up email servers that send spam, so the router and IP will quickly be added to spam and IP-blacklists and be useless. (That's why the hackers need so many of these hacked routers.)
The worst part is the clever hackers make sure that you don’t even know your router has been compromised. They try not to saturate your router too much or make it completely unavailable, just now you upgrade or replace it and then they lose their little internet soldier of death and spam !
If you start noticing a systematic slowdown that is persistent and only getting worse over time, it could definitely pay dividends to look into upgrading your firmware.
Another bonus to upgrading your router’s firmware is that sometimes the manufacturer might slip in a new feature or improve performance through optimizations. These types of updates greatly extend your router's lifetime.
Can This Not Be Done Automatically By Your ISP ?
Most of the ISPs now provide or loan you a router with your fibre package while you are a customer, some of them will do this remotely depending on the router and network.
1. Are the routers supplied by Atomic Access - firmware automatically updated ?
“We supply routers from various manufacturers and as "over the air" updates are handled differently by each manufacturer, but with some manufactures it’s not possible. For example we like the Tenda Nova range for their very affordable mesh WiFi systems, but customers need to use a smartphone app to update the routers, and updates for the Nova range are infrequent.
We also supply a highly capable router made by Ubiquiti called the AirCube. These link to our support controller which alerts us if a customer is offline, lets us perform a variety of remote tests if there is a less obvious problem to diagnose and keep the devices updated. Ubiquiti provides fairly regular firmware updates so after we have tested the new firmware we generally schedule updates about a week later. This is a free service for Atomic fibre customers.
We also offer enterprise grade WiFi for SMBs built on the Ubiquiti UniFi range of products. We link our FTTB customers UniFi devices to our UniFi controller which is hosted in the data centre. We handle all the hard work like regular backups, keeping the UniFi controller up to date, testing firmware updates, and then rolling out updates to the businesses hardware remotely. This service is only R99/m for small and medium businesses in most cases.
Different manufacturers have different features, with more premium products getting more features and if we can keep them updated we do.”
2. How important is it in your view to keep the firmware updated?
“It is very important to keep your firmware updated, mainly for security and performance reasons. We have also seen some manufacturers add (or unlock) new features on the routers with firmware updates. For example a recent upgrade on the AirCube allowed customers to use extra 5Ghz wifi channels previously reserved for pro-grade equipment. This can be very useful in a big apartment block where there are lots of overlapping WiFi signals from the neighbours WiFi.
It’s very important to test the firmware before you roll out the updates to lots of devices, that’s if the manufacturer pushes them out of course.”
Nicholas Soper - MD at Atomic Access - June 2020
Do It Yourself
Below we got an example video of where we check if our D-Link router has any new firmware upgrades available.