Not all that long ago, managing your home network’s security didn’t involve much more than installing an antivirus program on your PC. If only it were still so simple.
It’s no longer just about protecting the computer on which you may be working from home and the laptops the kids may be using as online school starts. Odds are good you’ve got a few other internet-connected devices around the house — phones, tablets, game consoles, maybe a “smart” TV or thermostat or refrigerator or light bulb or kid’s toy or security camera or video-streaming gadget or voice-activated digital valet.
The average U.S. home now has 11 such devices, according to Deloitte, many of which are vulnerable to hacking. If you don’t want cyber cat burglars traipsing across them, potentially spreading malware or ransomware as they go, you’ll want to secure your entire home network.
Home networks are a major target for cybercriminals, who use innocuous smart gadgets as stepping stones to loot data from PCs and phones. Or they may co-opt these simpler devices into much larger “botnets” that can be used to wreak havoc across the internet.
On average, one in three internet connections from home networks are made through devices other than computers or phones, so there’s lots of opportunity for mischief if you don’t lock your virtual windows to the networked world.
You can do it yourself, but that can be a lot of work, and the potential consequences of any mistakes could be significant. For most people, it makes better sense to pay for a network-protection service, whether offered by your internet provider or another business. Though it will cost you.
A security service sets up firewalls to block unwanted data traffic, but it doesn’t stop there. Since firewalls are imperfect, it will also monitor network traffic using artificial intelligence to detect unusual patterns. It keeps an eye on both your devices and malicious internet domains, alerting you to potential threats and blocking suspicious websites.
Internet providers now frequently offer security suites if you rent your modem or router from them. From Comcast, it costs $14 a month. Verizon charges fiber-optic FiOS subscribers $25/month but provides it for free with its premium gigabit plan.
If you recently bought your own router, security may come as a free trial and then a subscription. Or you can buy a separate service or standalone security appliance. Figure on paying about $100 a year.
“Most consumers don’t have the necessary knowhow as to how to secure their home network,” says Michael Philpott, a connected-home analyst with the Omedia tech research firm. “The only real option is to have a central solution that can monitor all connected devices.”