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Information Technology

Using a Wireless Router for Home Internet Access

A router is a network device that allows multiple computers to use one Internet connection. A wireless router shares that connection wirelessly in addition to providing ports for wired connections.

Adding a Router to a Home Network

Without a router, a typical home Internet connection will usually look like:

  • cable or DSL Internet line
  • [plugs into]
  • cable or DSL modem
  • [plugs into]
  • one wire-connected computer

Adding a wireless router to this setup looks like:

  • cable or DSL Internet line
  • [plugs into]
  • cable or DSL modem
  • [plugs into]
  • wireless router
  • [plugs into] / [while broadcasting]
  • one or more wire-connected computers / wireless network

Some wireless routers supplied by your Internet spervice provider may be integrated as part of the modem itself:

  • cable or DSL Internet line
  • [plugs into]
  • cable or DSL modem w/integrated wireless router
  • [plugs into] / [while broadcasting]
  • one or more wire-connected computers / wireless network

Once part of your network, the router shares Internet access for your connected desktop computers and any wireless devices in range.

Router Setup and Security

While plugging in a router is easy, the next step is securing your wireless network so only you and those you allow can use it. The router's manual will tell you how to access its security settings. It usually involves going to your web browser on a connected computer*, typing in the IP address of the router, and logging in with the supplied default name and password.

* It is recommended to use a wired connection when changing router settings. Trying to change wireless settings while connected wirelessly will result in frequent disconnects from the router.

Understanding the Acronyms

The following is a glossary of acronyms you may encounter in configuring your router:

  • SSID: Service Set Identifier. This is the name of the wireless network. The default is often the name of the router manufacturer (such as LINKSYS or NETGEAR). You can and should change the SSID to indicate this wireless network as your own. You can call it anything you like, but keep in mind that whatever you choose will be broadcast by the router and will be visible to anyone in range. Avoid personally identifying information (such as your name or address) in your choice of SSID.
  • DHCP: Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol. This is a service that automatically assigns network addresses to connected computers, either wired or wireless. You'll probably want this on automatic so you don't have to manually go to each computer and enter all the network information. It can be a mild security benefit to have it off, but in most cases the convenience outweighs the minor additional security hurdle it presents to potential hackers.
  • MAC address: Media Access Control address, also known as the hardware address, physical address, or adapter address. Every piece of network equipment has a unique hardware identifier called a MAC address. You could think of it as a social security number for network devices. The MAC address is a 12 digit hexadecimal number that is used to identify individual devices on a network. This is useful if you want to lock down your wireless network to only allow certain devices. You can tell the router to only provide wireless access to specific computers.
  • NAT: Network Address Translation is what gives you the power to take the one network address your cable or DSL modem gets and in turn serve multiple computers behind the router. NAT creates a "private side" network for all the computers behind it, and communicates that with the "public side" IP address your cable or DSL modem is getting from your Internet service provider.
  • WEP 64-bit, WEP 128-bit, WPA/WPA2 PSK: These are all encryption schemes. The Wireless Encryption Protocol (WEP) is old and mostly antiquated at this point, but exists for older wireless devices and software that do not support the newer Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) standard. Use WPA2-PSK ("pre-shared key," which just means you'll use a password) if available.
Critical Router Security

These are changes you must make to secure your router from hackers and "drive-by" stealing of your wireless network:

  • CRITICAL: change the administrator password to your router's settings to something other than the default password it came with.
  • CRITICAL: pick some form of encryption (WPA2/WPA preferred) and seal it with a strong password

Strong passwords are essential to security. For help with creating a strong password, see our Protecting your NetID article.

Additional Router Security

Other optional changes you can make to your wireless router to make it more secure include:

  • Change the name and disable broadcast of the SSID. This means your router won't broadcast the name of your wireless network to anyone who might be in range; you tell your computer manually what name it should find.
  • Enable MAC address filtering. You enter into the router the MAC address of your computer's wireless card and any other wireless device you want to allow, preventing unauthorized network devices from accessing your network (unless they steal your MAC address, which is partly why encryption is also important).

Last modified October 06 2016 10:01 AM

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