Security features to look for in home Wi-Fi gear
Internet security isn’t just for IT professionals—it starts at home. When you’re shopping for a new router or another piece of home networking equipment, it makes sense to consider the security implications.
In this article, we’ll cover the main security features to watch for when shopping for home Wi-Fi gear. Then we’ll recommend some of our favorite routers from a security standpoint.
Network encryption is a necessary security measure that keeps unwanted users off your network. This sounds complex, but for most people, it just comes down to requiring a password on your network—at least at the surface level. Behind the scenes, you actually have a choice to make.
There are two common encryption protocols: Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) and Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA). The latter also comes in multiple versions: WPA, WPA2, and the newest, WPA3.
WPA is far more secure than WEP, and you should at minimum ensure that your router supports WPA in some form. The newer versions further improve security, so WPA2 is better than WPA, and WPA3 is better yet. Grab the router with the newest version of WPA you can get.
One of the simplest—and most important—things you can do to keep your devices and network secured is to keep them updated. Manufacturers regularly release software and firmware updates that introduce new features and (more importantly) address security vulnerabilities. If you don’t update your devices, you’re leaving a huge gap for potential security issues to creep in.
Some routers, particularly older models, require a convoluted update process that most people won’t want to mess with. However, many newer routers make the process extremely simple—often just a button in the settings pane. This makes it much easier to keep your device up-to-date.
A firewall is a network security application that monitors the traffic on your network and blocks unauthorized use. “Unauthorized use” could include traffic from a rogue program on your computer or an individual attempting to gain access to the network without permission.
There are a number of ways to get a firewall in place—many (if not most) computers have their own, and most internet security suites also include one. However, having one on your wireless router makes sense, since it can protect the entire network at once, not just an individual device.
A virtual private network (VPN) is a service that enhances your privacy and safety online. It does this by routing your traffic through an encrypted server that’s typically located in either another part of the country or in a different country altogether. This helps hide your location and identity from anyone that might be snooping.
VPNs are available as standalone services or bundles with security software and other tools. Some routers also include tools to set up a VPN. This can be a nice bonus, though we wouldn’t necessarily make it a top priority.
Built-in parental controls
Parental controls are extremely important for keeping kids safe online. These are rules you can put in place that limit or block access to websites, establish time limits for certain devices, and allow more detailed insights into what a child has been up to online. The goal is to prevent excessive use and viewing potentially inappropriate materials.
As with firewalls, many devices come with their own parental controls built in. However, putting them in place at the router level means that any device on the network is subject to them, which might be more secure. It also means you don’t have to set the controls up again every time you get a new device, and you don’t have to worry about friends bringing their own devices over and bypassing the controls.
Antivirus software is a type of internet security software that scans your devices for malware (malicious programs) and attempts to quarantine and remove them. This is an important security measure that shouldn’t be overlooked. Antivirus scanning is handy on Windows and Android devices, which tend to be more vulnerable to malware than Apple devices.
Some routers include antivirus software built in that can provide an additional layer of security for your devices. This is usually not meant to replace your normal antivirus software—instead, it’s meant to supplement that software and cover devices that can’t run it. Smart home devices like smart doorbells and security cameras, for example, may be vulnerable to malware but unable to run traditional antivirus, so having it on the router can help.
The ability to create a guest network
Some wireless routers come with the ability to set up your private home network and then broadcast a separate guest network that friends and family can use. This can be used to avoid handing out your password, to keep guests out of network-attached storage devices, and more. You can also add a password to your guest network for extra security—just make sure it’s different from your “normal” Wi-Fi password.
With the above features in mind, we can now recommend a few of our favorite routers. These aren’t just routers with great security features—they’re also just excellent routers, period.
1. Netgear Nighthawk R7000P
- Powerful performance
- Excellent security features, including robust parental controls
- Some features require an additional subscription
- Struggles a bit at long range
This smart router offers a slew of advanced Wi-Fi and security features, including dual-band support, Quality of Service (QoS), smart parental controls, and even protection against Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. Netgear’s Nighthawk products routinely top lists of the best routers, so you also know that you’re getting a reliable brand that you can trust.
2. Eero Home Wi-Fi System
- Simple to set up
- Outstanding long-range performance
- Amazon owns Eero and collects a lot of data
- A bit pricey
If you live in a larger space and need the coverage of a mesh network, the Eero Home Wi-Fi system offers excellent speed and range in a relatively affordable package (for a mesh system). It’s also got powerful security features on board, including a guest network and parental controls. If you need even more, you can subscribe to an expanded security suite that adds enterprise-grade features.
3. Netgear Nighthawk AX8
- Simple to set up
- Excellent performance
- Extremely expensive
- Distinctive aesthetic
If money is no object for you—or you just want one of the best routers money can buy—the pricey but potent Nighthawk AX8 combines excellent security features and outstanding performance in one unit. Security features include DDoS protection, a double firewall, WPA2 encryption, and parental controls.
Secure your digital life
Whether you’ve been the victim of a cybercrime and want to beef up your security, or you’re trying to avoid becoming part of this growing statistic, your home network is a good place to start. When selecting gear, consider the security features available, in addition to the performance and price.
Dave Schafer is a freelance writer with a passion for making technical concepts easy for anyone to understand. He’s been covering the world of gadgets, tech, and the internet for over 8 years, with a particular focus on TV and internet service providers. When he’s not writing, Dave can be found playing guitar or camping with his family and golden retriever, Rosie.
Bri Field has a background in academia, research writing, and brand marketing. She has edited scientific publications, conference papers, digital content, and technical communications. As Assigning Editor, she enjoys ensuring all content is accurate, clear, and helpful. In her free time, you can find her in the kitchen trying a new recipe, out on a hike, or working through her massive TBR list.