Your home Wi-Fi network may have contributed to a massive cyberattack this fall.

What happened: On October 21, hackers released a virus that infected millions of home Wi-Fi routers, which beam Internet signals to wirelessly connected computers, printers, phones, video-streaming devices, home–security systems, thermostats, refrigerators and many other devices. The routers and devices have their own internal software that comes with password protection. But the default passwords set at the factory tend to be simple and easily cracked (such as “12345”). Many consumers don’t know about this or never bother to change the default password. The infected devices across the country were commandeered to produce spam messages that eventually blocked access for several hours to popular websites including Airbnb, Amazon, Netflix, PayPal and Twitter.

The potential for personalized attacks in your own home are unnerving. What if a cyberthief opened your Wi-Fi–enabled door locks or garage door, disabled your security system or turned off your home heat? Relying on anti-virus software on your computer won’t necessarily protect you because your router and devices don’t depend on the computer to connect to the Internet.

Steps that you need to take…

  • Change the default password set by the factory on your home router and all of your Wi-Fi-connected devices. Each device should be given its own unique password, at least eight characters that mix numbers, upper- and lower-case letters, and symbols. To change passwords, see the instructions in the software or app that you used to install your devices, or search for instructions on the manufacturers’ websites.
  • Set your router and other devices to automatically update their internal software. Manufacturers commonly issue software patches to improve product performance, add new features or address security weakness. But you won’t get these patches unless you elected to receive them when you set up your devices. You typically can re-select this option at the same time that you change your password.