Protecting Routers and Networks from Hackers

Hackers are no longer content to just go after computers. Now they want to go after networks' nervous systems.

"There are special kinds of malware that attack the router and reconfigure it," says Erik Tews of the Center for Advanced Security Research at the Technical University of Darmstadt in Germany.

Thus, a person surfing the net to go to a bank could be redirected by the virus in the router to another site that pulls up account data or smuggles further viruses and Trojans onto a computer.

Such manipulation can only be recognized with very close inspection. Hackers might not offer encrypted connections, says Tews. Or the address bar doesn't look the same as normal, lacking things like the padlock icon or uses an http prefix, instead of https.

Some hackers try to create the false sense of encryption.

"That's when the browser should warn that the certificate can't be recognized," says the security expert.

To avoid the situation entirely, users should protect their routers from attack. Hackers usually make use of gaps in the software, which is often on the older side. But a lot of manufacturers have started using countermeasures.

"Just like with programs, there are router updates," says Tews. "Newer devices, in general, update themselves regularly." Users of older models will have to find new firmware on the manufacturer's Web site.

Another security trick is to switch passwords. After all, if an attacker knows the code to get onto a network, he doesn't even need to find a security gap.

"Routers all have a standard password that's easy to find out," says Tews. That's why users should be sure to change it at least once.

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