Tech Talk: Work-from-Home Cybersecurity and Performance

August 2020 – Vol. 39, No. 7

Mike Robey, MS, AAO-HNS/F Senior Director, Information Technology

Home cybersecurity, like other types of security, requires a layered, in-depth approach. Every device on your home Wi-Fi needs to be secured. The basics include ensuring every connected computer has anti-virus and malware software, all software is updated and patched on a regular basis, and tablets are kept up-to-date with patches and only run trusted apps (no jailbreaking your phone). Following these basic cybersecurity practices is good but not enough.

What is often overlooked is the cable modem and Wi-Fi router connecting you to the internet. When was the last time your cable modem was replaced? If you cannot recall, it may be time to replace it, if for no other reason than that older modems may be less secure and are not able to support the newer speeds internet service providers offer.

The same thing is true with your Wi-Fi router. Do you know how old it is? More importantly, do you know how to log into it? It is very possible that your Wi-Fi router still has the default password for its administrator account. Hackers know the default passwords for various brands, and this is their first step to break into your virtual home. If you do not know how old your Wi-Fi router is and/or do not know how to login to it, it is time to replace it.

A big benefit of upgrading your Wi-Fi router is getting one that includes security features such as blocking access to known malicious sites, preventing intrusions, blocking infected devices from participating in botnets, and parental control. Following is a brief outline of how to ensure your new Wi-Fi router is secure:

  • Change your router’s username and password
  • Change the network name
  • Enable the security features built in to your router
  • Every month check for firmware updates
  • Do not use Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) due to known security holes
  • Use Wi-Fi Protected Access version 2 (WPA2)

Work-from-Home Performance

Most Wi-Fi routers come with four Ethernet ports. If you can connect your computer to one of these ports via an Ethernet cable you will get faster access than with Wi-Fi.1 Even at the same throughput speeds, Ethernet is faster than Wi-Fi. This is due to the nature of the two different transmission protocols.

Both Wi-Fi and Ethernet were designed as shared media, enabling multiple devices to share the same wire or radio wave. However, each handles traffic congestion differently and therein lies the performance difference.2  To visualize the transmission of data, picture a convoy of tractor-trailers going down the highway. The trucks are following each other single file in one lane traveling across a border. Each of these trucks represents a data packet.

With Ethernet, each truck continues across, one after the other, and only stops when there is a collision (data packets colliding). When this occurs the next truck to cross waits a random period before proceeding and the rest of the convoy repeats the behavior pattern. This behavior is known as collision detection. Wi-Fi uses a collision avoidance method. Each device sharing the radios waves may not be able to “see” other devices so they may not be able to detect a collision. Instead of collision detection, Wi-Fi tries to avoid collisions. In the convoy scenario as each truck crosses the border, the next truck always stops and waits a random period before proceeding. This stop-and-go nature avoids collisions but slows down delivery. The collision avoidance behavior of Wi-Fi makes it slower than Ethernet.

One tip for improving streaming performance, or to extend Ethernet’s reach to the far side of your home, is to invest in a couple of powerline adaptors. These use the electric wire in your home to extend Ethernet. Plug one powerline adaptor to an electrical outlet near your Wi-Fi router and connect an Ethernet cable between it and the router. Plug the other powerline adaptor in an outlet near your smart TV and connect an Ethernet cable between it and the TV. You now have an Ethernet connection to your TV. I did this several years ago and have never had a buffering problem.

Looking Ahead

As the internet of things (IoT) evolves, these, too, will require security.  Like other devices, IoT firmware (or software) must be updated on a regular basis. Set it and forget it is not an acceptable security model. IoT devices typically use stripped-down versions of open-source software, which may very well leave IoT devices vulnerable. And if they cannot be updated then they truly are vulnerable. The Mirai botnet, consisting of hacked webcams, almost took down the internet back in October 2016. The concern is real. Remember: security in layers, all connected devices need to be secure, and all must be upgradable. A great place to start is securing your home Wi-Fi router.

 

 

  1. If your laptop does not have a built-in Ethernet port, you will need to get a docking station or a USB dongle with an Ethernet port.
  2. On a shared media network only one device can send data at any moment.