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June 11, 2022

Privacy Tip of the Week: Buy a New Router

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If you’re using wi-fi to read this article, it was probably made possible by a router. A router takes a wired internet connection – such as may be provided to a computer via an ethernet cable – and makes it available wirelessly. This allows devices like phones, tablets, laptops, and smart devices like home assistants, thermostats, doorbell cameras, and more, to connect to the internet without the use of direct cables. They’re the reason you can connect to wi-fi in shopping malls, cafes, city centers, and more.

Despite their importance in creating an internet-connected world, few people actually consider the humble router or the fact that, as they age, they begin encountering issues. Outdated models may become slow over time or, worse, may become prone to security threats. The best way to prevent these issues is to buy a new router every three to five years. Here are the things you should know:

  • How does wi-fi work?
  • What is a router?
  • Why should you buy a new router?
  • How can you make your router more secure?

How Does Wi-Fi Work?

Wi-fi is one of the cornerstones of modern internet technology. But have you ever stopped to consider how it really works? The process is simpler than you may think.

In essence, wi-fi operates via radio waves. It uses these radio waves to transmit data from a wire-connected router to your device. Currently, there are two radio frequencies that wi-fi data travels along; 2.4 gigahertz, and 5 gigahertz. When connecting to a wi-fi network, you may see that the network has a 2.4g or a 5g option. In general, the 5g network allows more data to be transferred at once, making it run faster. However, the 2.4g option has a greater range, meaning if you’re far from the router the data is coming from, you may be better off picking the 2.4g option.

When you’ve connected to your wi-fi network of choice, you can start using the internet. When you access the internet, your activity is translated into binary code (which is a series of ones and zeroes that computers can interpret as language). The binary code is then translated into radio frequencies by the wi-fi chip in your device and sent to the router. Once received, the router turns the frequencies back into binary. Using its hardwired internet connection, it fulfills your activity request and transfers the information you want back to your device by using the same process.

For example, when you clicked on this article, your device interpreted your request (to open this web page) as binary code. It sent the code as radio waves to your router, which then fulfilled your request from its wired connection. The data you requested was translated back to binary and transmitted to your device in the shape of the web page.

What is a Router?

We’ve already touched on this topic above. But, basically, a router is a communication device. Its purpose is to communicate between your devices and the internet, sharing information between one and the other. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be discussing wireless routers, which are the type most commonly used to provide wi-fi.

A wireless router connects to a device called a modem. Modems are the access point to the internet; they are how internet service providers provide your home or business with internet to begin with. The router connects to the modem with a physical cable, giving it reliable and consistent internet access. It then creates a communication point with your wi-fi connected device via the radio waves we discussed early.

The process initially begins with a modem (the access point to the web), flows through the router (the path for information to travel), and your wi-fi enabled device (the receiving end of internet data).

Why Should You Buy a New Router?

Internet technology tends to evolve quickly. What was state-of-the-art five years ago is like comparing a kid’s scooter to a rocket ship today. If you want consistently fast and safe internet access through your router, it’s recommended that you replace it every three to five years. Here are some other reasons you may want to consider replacing your router often:

  • Increased security
  • Stronger antennas
  • Reduced signal interference
  • Matched to new tech

Increased Security

When a manufacturer produces a new router, it has the most up-to-date security protocols and safety features. However, as soon as the tech hits the market, someone is working on creating ways around those protocols. To some extent, code updates can fend off the worst of the attacks but eventually the manufacturer will fall behind or stop trying altogether once they begin work on creating something new and improved. When this happens, anyone using the outdated technology becomes vulnerable to hacks and other dangers. This may allow a hacker to invade your wi-fi network and snoop on your activity, steal your data, spread malware to your devices, slow your connection down, and even control your devices to some extent.

The best way to keep your security and privacy safe is to constantly move with the market and replace your router with a new model every so often.

Buy a New Router for Their Stronger Antennas

The antennas on routers are responsible for transmitting the internet signal to your mobile devices. Older models may use antennas that are weak or have a hard time beaming signals to devices on the move. That could, in turn, lead to poor signal strength and slow internet speeds that can frustrate even the most patient of wi-fi users. New routers typically have stronger, better designed antennas to reduce these issues.

Reduced Signal Interference

When routers were first created, they were designed mostly for laptops and the occasional cell phone. It took manufacturers a while to catch up to the explosive demand for wi-fi from laptops, phones, tablets, and smart home devices. Many older routers have a hard time keeping up and the signals travelling between devices sometimes interfere with one another. Many new routers allow signals to be split into two frequencies to reduce interference and increase speeds. If you buy a new router, you’ll likely benefit from this feature.

Matched to New Tech

New models of technology come out every year, and updates come along at breathtaking speed. If you constantly update your other devices but ignore your router, the router tech won’t be able to keep up with the tech in all the things that need to be connected to wifi.

How Can You Make Your Router More Secure?

While slow wi-fi can be annoying, an unsecured or breached wi-fi network can become downright dangerous to your digital privacy and security. Whether you’ve just unboxed your brand new router or have had one for a few years now, you should consider beefing up its security with these simple tips:

  • Turn on automatic updates. These updates often have security batches to prevent breaches before they happen.
  • Use a strong password. If your wi-fi password is easy to guess, all sort of unintended people could be using your network without you realizing it. This may allow them to snoop on all of your supposedly private activity.
  • Turn off the features you don’t use. Some common features on routers are enabled by default but may cause problems for you if you don’t use them. For example, many routers offer “remote administration” which allow you to manage your router from outside of your home. However, if you can do it, a hacker can too.
  • Name your network something unique. All routers come with a default network name (which is how you choose the network to connect to). Unfortunately, this default may give hackers a clue about the make and model of your router, giving them a better opportunity to hack into it.
  • Use a VPN. If you don’t own the router you’re connected to (for example, you’re on public wi-fi), use a VPN. This tool helps to encrypt your data and keep you protected when you can’t manage the security of the wi-fi network on your own.

No one wants a wi-fi headache and no one wants a breach in privacy and security. Buy a new router every three to five years to keep yourself safe online.

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