Can a router reboot really fight off Russian hackers?

Amy Nordrum, a Science journalist with IEEE Spectrum, explains the vulnerabilities of a router, and how to securely maintain one.
News Editor at IEEE Spectrum magazine Amy Nordrum says we can all be vulnerable to cyber attacks. (Courtesy Amy Nordrum)

This week the FBI issued a PSA warning owners of small and home offices that over 500,000 wireless routers worldwide have been infected with malware they believe is linked to Russian hackers.

The malware has the ability to monitor web-usage, collect personal information, and even shut down routers altogether. One of the main takeaways of the PSA was for users to reboot their routers.

"Actually rebooting the router does not solve the problem completely; it doesn't wipe the malware away magically," said Amy Nordrum, News Editor with science magazine, IEEE Spectrum.

"What rebooting does is forces the router, and the malware installed on it, to reach out to a specific website that the malware is programmed to ask for instructions every time it reboots, and the FBI has taken over that website recently. So it will ping that website, the FBI will know that particular router is infected, then the FBI can work with an internet service provider that provides service to that router, to fix the problem," she said.

For many, the major lesson of the PSA was that internet security goes beyond our computers and mobile devices.  

"Yea, routers definitely have been a problem, and a place that a lot of hackers have targeted for attacks in the past. For consumers, and businesses, and large companies, it's just a very hard thing to get totally secure," Nordrum said.

She added that "lately internet service providers and router manufacturers have been layering all these extra protocols and services on top of your basic Wi-Fi, which can open you up to more attacks and actually make you more vulnerable."

According to Nordrum, routers have traditionally had a design problem, wherein users haven't really been able to interact and understand their device. Nordrum notes that as technology evolves, router design is becoming more security-focused, giving users the ability to have more control over their device. This is especially true in the router market outside of the ones provided from an ISP.  

In the meantime there are a few things router owners can do to help maintain a secure device. Nordrum recommends updating both your Wi-Fi password and the password used to log onto your router's settings through an online administrative portal.

"And there's one other switch you can make, that might help keep foreign attackers off of your device. If you change it from a 2.4 Ghz wavelength or setting for your Wi-Fi to a five, that wavelength is actually shorter, it doesn't travel as far. It makes it harder for people outside your apartment, outside of your home to log into your Wi-Fi unbeknownst to you."


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