An old wireless router can spell big trouble.
The need for security is more paramount than ever as many scams, viruses and other cyber-criminal activities have become a day-to-day occurrence. Between the daily scam texts to the odd plug-ins jumping out at you from your web browser, it seems like gliding smoothly and easily online is a novelty.
There is one aspect of your digital life that might leave you more vulnerable than realized. Buying the right router might make a difference in your overall digital security.
That’s why we loved this question sent in from Gurden.
“Hi Kurt. Our router is three years old and I am thinking we should replace it. We have two iPhones, two iPads, and we stream Netflix and Prime. Could you recommend a router that is continuously updated for security? We are not gamers, but we surf the internet regularly, but we are not real computer savvy.
Thanks for your help. I enjoy seeing you on Fox and enjoy your newsletter – Gurden B.”
Thanks for writing in, Gurden! This is one area of our technological life that doesn’t get enough attention but surely impacts how most devices in your home and office connect to the internet. A more secure router would work in tandem with the security measures you already have in place, such as having top-notch antivirus and VPN programs.
Top 6 important features for your next router
While there is a myriad of features that work best for each person, below are the top 6 features we recommend you put at the top of your shopping list when you purchase your next router.
1. VPN enabled/compatible to make your connection private
A VPN creates a secure network by keeping network traffic encrypted between the device and its ‘destination’. Please note there are 2 aspects of VPN:
- VPN server: Your secure router can be used as a ‘gateway’ to get onto your network when you’re not a home
- VPN client: Your secure router lets you connect to another VPN service
While the benefits of VPN have been extolled in our articles: The safest way to browse the web: VPN Browsing & Top 6 reasons why you need a VPN when you travel, it is best to purchase a VPN client-compatible router if you want to maximize the benefits of a VPN provider.
Top 5 reasons to set up your VPN provider, such as ExpressVPN, on your router:
- For devices that you can’t install VPN on, such as TVs, consoles, or streamers, you can still get the benefits of your VPN service as long as it is installed on your router
- Installing VPN on a router, you can connect all your devices to ExpressVPN at the same time.
- Never fear if you forget to turn on your VPN. If you’ve got your VPN installed on your router, whatever devices are connected to that router’s network will be shielded by the VPN service
- Use next-generation VPN protocol for faster VPN experience
- A user-friendly experience makes managing device connections a breeze
2. Strong WiFi Encryption means everything you do is secure
If you’ve ever purchased a router, you’ve inevitably heard of WiFi Protected Access (WPA) or Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP). WPA is network security technology that encrypts data to anyone outside your network because the devices on your network use the same encryption algorithm. WPA2 is an updated version of WPA.
- Avoid WEP only: an older, outdated, and less secure technology, which should be avoided in any future purchases
- Look for WPA3: the latest iteration of this technology and is the most secure:
- Goes beyond a shared password to connect devices
- Uses Wi-fi device provisioning protocol (DPP) system allows users to use near field communication (NFC) tags or QR codes to get on your network
- More advanced encryption: GCMP-256 encryption vs. older 128-bit encryption
- Both the device and wireless access point verify authentication and connection
- Protects against guessing your password because it only allows a user one guess; a user would have to be physically present with the router in order to guess the password
- While not absolutely necessary nor will it reach the top speed it purports in real life, Wi-fi 6 is the next generation Wi-Fi technology. How it relates to security is that most Wi-fi 6 routers have to have WPA3 technology in order to receive certification from the Wi-fi Alliance. Thus, if you have a Wi-fi 6 router, it should come with WPA3 technology.
3. Separate Guest Network makes it easy to share with friends and family
The ability to create secure guest networks may seem unrelated to security but it actually gives you another layer of control.
- It is a second network that is broadcast by your router with a different name (SSID) that you can use to connect friends, family, or guests when you don’t want them to connect to your wifi network using your main password
- It also gives them more restricted access:
- It prevents having access to other devices on your network, and you can control time and speed limits
4. Firewall keeps the bad guys at bay
Most secure routers have a good firewall to protect against hackers through Network Address Translation and private IP addresses, but a better firewall takes it a step further:
- Packet inspections: monitors and analyzes what’s going in and out on your network to provide virus and malware detection
- Outbound firewall: looks at the traffic leaving your network to prevent data leaks (most basic firewalls only focus on inbound traffic)
5. Regular Firmware Updates keep you safer
To stay ready for potential cybercriminal activity, get a router from a manufacturer that regularly updates the firmware.
- As cyber criminals continually ‘test the fences’ of protective measures, it’s important to have a router from a manufacturer that is responding and putting out patches to any vulnerabilities or against known threats
- You can usually find out by googling the manufacturer of the router you’re going to purchase and see their support page – they will usually list the latest releases to firmware, etc.
6. Parental Controls make it easy for mom and dad
You can set up basic access controls by device, often being able to pause or block the internet for specific devices when internet cut-off is necessary.
When one WiFi router isn’t enough
Before I share my picks, the standard routers I list below are best for quality, performance, ease of use – some without breaking the bank. Mesh networking routers are becoming popular for larger installations where one wireless router cannot reach the entire area. Mesh networking routers can be more expensive than standard routers. The good news is that many Mesh routers these days offer plug-and-play ease. Gamers often lean toward standard routers for faster performance and less glitches. Everything you need to know about Mesh Wireless Routers including my top picks.
Best Secure Routers Picks 2022
Below is a list of the best 5 routers recommended for their security features and also for their compatibility with VPN service providers for secure connections such as ExpressVPN.
- Wi-Fi 6
- AiProtection network security, which is commercial grade security powered by Trend Micro; it blocks internet security threats for all connected smart devices
- WPA2 standard but WPA3 supported (update via firmware)
- Few devices support Wi-Fi 6 so you aren’t going to get to maximize the top speed benefits but it is backward compatible so it will work with existing technology
- Open source firmware – advanced users can modify the router to meet their specific needs
- Guest Access
- Parental control
- Amazon extended 18-month warranty
- Smooth access to firewall and VPN passthrough port forwarding triggering and internet filtering settings
- Tri-stream 160 (only available on this router) doubles the bandwidth of the 5Ghz band
- Average speed on 2.4 GHz (a lot of appliances and smart devices connect to wifi routers on this bandwidth)
- No WPA3
- Connects up to 25 devices
- Guest Access
- Parental Control
- Netgear Armor – BitFender cybersecurity for 30-day free trial
- Only supports WPA2
- Wi-Fi 6: Fastest on the market — latest technology
- Connect up to 20 devices
- Netgear Armor Antivirus & data theft protection (powered by Bitdefender)
- Parental controls
- Double Firewall
- WPA3 enabled
- VPN Compatible
- Guest Access
- Expensive/Higher price range for routers
- Free lifetime subscription of TP-link HomeCare, which boasts antivirus parental controls, QoS (Quality of service – controls traffic to make sure the performance of critical applications when there is limited network capacity)
- VPN compatible
- Not Wi-Fi 6
- No WPA3
How to install ExpressVPN onto your router
If you’re looking for a router that can maximize VPN, definitely make sure that the router you choose is compatible with the specific VPN service provider. If you need to find out how to install ExpressVPN, please click here.
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- How do I use a VPN for online banking when I travel?
- Are free VPNs safe?