Do you have a feeling you’re experiencing a router hack? It’s more common than most people assume, and pulling it off is surprisingly straightforward. Here’s how to check if you have an unwanted visitor and fix any damage they’ve done.
How routers get hacked
Threat actors can hack routers in several ways, mainly through network vulnerabilities or brute force attacks. Alternatively, they can exploit built-in features like remote management or Wi-Fi Protected Setup to bypass passwords.
They can also easily infiltrate if you’ve never updated your device’s original credentials, considering manufacturers reuse the same ones for all their products. Since they often appear in user manuals, they’re common knowledge — even amateurs can get past that security.
Most of these methods are relatively simple, heightening the risk of a cybersecurity incident. Even so, the techniques are subtle enough that most businesses won’t immediately recognize anything of concern.
Threat actors could even use your credentials to slip in unnoticed. For example, they can legitimately gain access using passwords from leaks. Your login information is likely compromised if your workplace has recently experienced a data breach or cybersecurity incident, so you should ensure that all affected employees have changed their credentials as quickly as possible.
10 signs to tell that your router has been hacked
Watch for these 10 signs to tell if threat actors have hijacked your router. If you notice multiple of them occurring simultaneously, it’s likely that you’ve been hacked.
1. Inability to log in
Sometimes, an inability to log in only points to a forgotten password or software fault. But if you know everything is in order and suddenly find yourself blocked from accessing your router, chances are hackers have changed the login credentials to keep you out.
2. Sudden slow speeds
Sudden, severe drops in connection speed can result from cyberattacks but may also indicate a hacked router. Threat actors could be using it to remotely access other devices on the network, piggybacking or leveraging it in a botnet.
3. Session hijacking
The most significant sign of a hacked router is a partial or complete loss of control. While threat actors could technically take over your computers and do substantial damage before you stop them, most prefer to be more discreet — it gives them ample time to carry out their plans.
If your staff starts noticing cursors moving or files opening themselves, you can be pretty sure you’ve been hacked.
4. Browser redirects
Browser hijacking is a sure sign of router hacking. If multiple employees simultaneously report odd, consistent redirects to the IT department, an unauthorized change to domain name system (DNS) settings has occurred.
Once a hacker gains access to a router, they can direct all workplace network traffic to a DNS server. Their goal is to get as many employees as possible to click malicious links or download malware before a security specialist identifies and fixes the issue.
5. Appearance of unknown devices
The sudden appearance of an unknown device on your network is a clear sign of router hacking. The internet protocol addresses should partially match the local device’s addresses, so you can easily spot this occurring. Ensure you’re mindful of IP spoofing.
6. Unusual network activity
Unusual activity points to the fact that someone has infiltrated your router. For example, abnormal access times outside the business’s regular operating hours may signal an external malicious party has successfully hacked your network.
7. Sudden increase of popups
Threat actors can inject or install malicious files, and a sudden increase in popups is a sign of router hacking. A single employee making this report may not stand out, but you should be concerned if multiple people experience the same problem simultaneously.
8. Unfamiliar downloads
A hacker can make malicious installations once they access a router. They may not go as far as outright downloading ransomware, but that scenario is possible. If many people suddenly notice new, unfamiliar programs, files or tools, you likely have a hacked router.
9. Appearance of antivirus software
The sudden appearance of unfamiliar antivirus software is a standard method hackers use to take advantage of people’s trust. Although they can move around at will once they’re in your network, they install it hoping to increase their returns.
Never trust antivirus software that appears on their computers overnight, unless IT has notified you directly of a remote installation. And in general, it’s best to avoid obscure and unproven security software, since it could be malware in anti-malware clothing. When in doubt, here’s a list of top antivirus software to ensure you’re only getting legitimate tools.
10. Message from hacker
Sometimes, a message directly from the hacker is your only sign. They likely won’t come out and say they have access to your router, considering fixing a hacked router is relatively simple. Still, you can quickly identify its origin with enough effort and patience.
How to fix a hacked router in 5 steps
Fortunately, fixing a hacked router is pretty straightforward in most cases. Here’s how to fix router hacking in only five steps.
1. Disconnect the router
Disconnecting a router from the internet prevents hackers from continuing their exploitation and further damaging your workplace. It won’t fix everything immediately but revokes their remote access and boots them out.
2. Adjust access options
You must adjust access options to reduce vulnerabilities. For example, you should disable remote management and ensure your device is Wi-Fi Protected Access 3 enabled. WPA3 is the most up-to-date security standard — offering individual device encryption — and provides excellent additional security.
3. Perform a hard reset
Go the extra mile and perform a hard reset — it lets you boot any unwanted visitors to start with a clean slate. Unless hackers had time to create a backdoor or installed malware elsewhere, it ensures they’re out.
4. Update the router password
If hackers have accessed your router through compromised credentials, update the password to prevent them from returning. Ensure it uses no string of legible text, uses various types of characters, and is long enough not to be guessable by password cracking software.
5. Update the router’s firmware
Update the router’s firmware to minimize the presence of security vulnerabilities. If this doesn’t happen automatically, you can go to your internet service provider’s website to do it manually. Remember, you’ll need to use an ethernet cable to update your router’s firmware since you can’t use the Wi-Fi it produces.
Before you turn your router back on, ensure you know the extent of the infiltration and identify what else could be infected. Make sure the DNS settings are correct and undo any leftover hacker changes.
What are the consequences of hacked routers?
There are many consequences of router hacking, including data theft, compromised systems, and concealment of other malicious activity. A hacker can use privilege escalation and file erasure to move around undetected.
Their ability to alter communications is concerning. For example, they could initiate a network snooping attack to intercept and manipulate data packets. While a passive incident typically only involves data monitoring and theft, an active one results in malicious injections and blockages.
This behavior inadvertently leads to noncompliance, potentially resulting in reduced consumer trust, lower brand perception and significant fines. A minor network intrusion can quickly become a serious concern when it has major financial and legal repercussions.
Threat actors can also leverage routers to use in distributed denial-of-service attacks. For example, Condi, a relatively new malware, uses its botnet to offer DDoS-as-a-service for anyone willing to pay. Although it’s been around since 2022, industry experts tracking its progression saw a significant increase in May 2023.
It deletes critical system binaries to survive a hard reset. While it doesn’t have persistence mechanisms — meaning a disconnect and reboot should wipe it — diagnostic attempts require a knowledgeable professional to recognize its workarounds.
Tips for avoiding network and router hacks in the future
Even though no prevention method guarantees protection, you can still drastically reduce the chances of another router hack.
- Reset passwords frequently: Frequent password resets ensure hackers cannot use stolen credentials to access a router. Change them regularly and after every cybersecurity incident.
- Keep firmware updated: Keeping devices up to date is a proven cybersecurity method. If you can’t automatically update the router, ensure you monitor releases to do it manually.
- Encrypt everything: Hackers can’t manipulate what they can’t access, so always encrypt your network, communications, and data.
- Monitor network activity: Most businesses already monitor network activity, but you could improve your current methods. Consider using artificial intelligence for rapid detection.
Simple cybersecurity additions protect against most router hacking attempts. If your business hasn’t implemented these already, ensure you do so as soon as possible to become more secure.
Bottom line: Protecting your router from hacking
Router hacking is concerningly simple. Fortunately, so is fortifying it from intruders. Ensuring your router and credentials are current keeps most amateurs out. The IT department can boost your business’s network security with the quick fixes mentioned in this guide.
Protect your perimeter from hacking by penetration testing regularly. Here are the best ethical hacking tools to test your vulnerability.