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Close a security loophole in your router

There are now more broadband internet connections in our homes than dial-up and its use is widespread. The days of slow modems (anyone remember 14.4kbps models?) are over and there are very few people that can't connect to the internet via a fast broadband link. ADSL and cable connections are used in homes and you can either use a broadband modem that plugs directly into the telephone socket or cable box, or you can use a router.

A router is a great device and they have been used for office networks for many years. Now they have expanded into the home and when you combine Wi-Fi with a router you get a device that lets all your computers in the home connect to the internet simultaneously. They are excellent.

Routers are usually accessed using a web browser because they have a mini web server in them that enables you to view pages that contain configuration settings. There are lots of useful settings in routers, but you don't need to configure every last one of them and most of the defaults are sensible. However, there is one setting that is vitally important for your safety and security and that is the username and password that is used to gain access to the router.

All routers are protected with a username and password so that unauthorised people cannot access the settings and mess things up. However, the defaults that are set by the manufacturer are well known. In fact, there is even a website that is dedicated to listing all the usernames and passwords used by the most popular routers. Take a look at www.routerpasswords.com and see if your router is listed there. Even if it isn't, notice that many default usernames and passwords are the same or are very similar.

The problem is that these router default usernames and passwords are well known by hackers and malware, and it is therefore possible to hack into people's routers if they haven't bothered to change the default settings that it came with. The hacker or malware can take control of the system and use it to spread more malware, infect computers, send spam, steal your identity, or even lock you out of your own internet connection.

You should log on to your router and change the defaults as soon as possible - before some hacker or malware changes it for you.

Open a web browser window and enter the IP address of the router into the address box (no need for http:// or anything, just the numbers). It is often or something very similar (usually only the last two digits vary a little). Your router's manual will tell you exactly what numbers to type in. It might even be printed on the router somewhere too.

You can also discover it in the operating system too. In Windows XP for example, double click the network icon at the right-hand side of the taskbar (like two monitors). Select the Support tab and under Default Gateway is the IP address of the router. In Vista and 7 right click the icon and select Network and Sharing Center. Click View Status in the Network section and then click the Details button. The gateway, DNS server and DHCP server will all probably point to the same IP address - the router. This is what you type into the address box of your browser to access the router's login page. Once you have logged in, you can change the default username and password.