Let us consider the humble router

Wednesday, 20 February, 2019

There it squats, quietly getting on with its job. We hardly ever give it a second thought. No-one’s ever wanted one for a Christmas present nor do we worry over upgrading it the same way we do with other more glamorous devices. And yet without the humble router we can’t connect, and, what’s more all your data goes through it.

Much of this came to mind after Amazon announced they had purchased a hardware company called Eero. Eero makes networking gear to create mesh networks around your home.

Mesh networks work by spreading your connection among your devices dotted around the house. It means not having to rely on one single connection. This makes connecting devices much simpler for the average user.

Data is the lifeblood of Amazon. it underpins its strategy of selling stuff. But what is often overlooked is this means your humble router is extremely vital in gathering anonymised or non-specific data from your connected devices. So, for instance, it knows you use a smart TV if not the make. But for Amazon this knowledge is extremely valuable. Hence the purchase of Eero.

And while all this is valuable to Amazon it is also extremely valuable to hackers and their like.

So, maybe its time you had another look at the little black box at the back of your desk. For instance, let’s face it none of us ever look at the router’s settings. Its probable that the default settings are still there. If so, it may be vulnerable to attacks. And, say the experts, it’s not just a question of passwords.

Attackers don’t need your password. If there’s a vulnerability in the router’s firmware, they can use that as a way in. Remember all of your data goes through that router that sits between you and the internet. Everything can be collected.

- Kevin Du: Professor of Computer Science, Syracuse University, USA

It may be tiresome but updating the firmware on your router is as equally important as any other device you own. And, as with any other device, out-of-date software opens you up to potential attacks. Experts are generally agreed you should replace your router every two or three years.

Amazon may well start increasing such access points through its newly purchased Eero, say for its Echo speakers, meaning a further increase in potential attack areas. So, maybe a bit of love reserved for your smartphone should be redirected to that oh so humble but vital router.

Tim Bamford author picture


Tim is a veteran freelance journalist writing extensively on internet news and cybersecurity.