Changing your router's settings can be a daunting process. But don't worry - most people will be able to do it themselves easily, with a few tips. Changing the settings on your wireless router is much simpler than you might think, and this guide aims to explain the process.
If this guide doesn’t help, and you need more specifics, we recommend you check out your provider’s website or contact customer support.
Changing router settings: the key points
Why Change Your Router Settings?
First off, why would you need to change your settings? One of the main reasons to change the default settings on your home broadband router is to improve your security.
Security vulnerabilities are being discovered daily, and routers shipped by your internet service provider (ISP) can carry these flaws for a long time, unless you do a bit of tweaking.
Changing your Wi-Fi network name (officially called the SSID or Service Set Identifier) is a good idea. The default name, which is broadcast to the world, will give people a good idea of the make and model of your router. Knowing that makes it easier to hack.
Also, creating a personal SSID that’s identifiable to your house or your family will help if there are lots of Wi-Fi networks in the area. You can pick out your Wi-Fi from the crowd, making things a little easier when you’re setting up a new Wi-Fi device.
What router settings should be changed?
Besides changing your Wi-Fi network name, everyone should change the default admin passwords for their router. These are usually found on the underside or back of the router itself, but make sure you store the new password in a safe place! As always, you should only set a unique password you’re not using anywhere else.
Users should also adjust the Wi-Fi security level to protect the network. For instance, your router may have a button labelled 'WPS', and you should disable this. WPS makes it easier for a device to connect to a secure network, but it also makes your network less secure.
Other settings to change could be parental controls, or creating a guest network for visitors to your home. Once again, this will better protect your core home network.
Several other router settings can be modified, but possibly the most important thing is updating the router's firmware (its operating system) to close any potential security holes.
How to access router settings
We strongly recommend you connect your PC or laptop to your router via an Ethernet cable, as a physical connection is the most reliable method. If they’re connected by wires, your link to the router won't be affected if you make changes to your Wi-Fi network settings.
You can access your router's software via a web browser like Safari, Chrome or Edge. You can do this in any browser, so you won’t need to install anything.
In the browser address bar, you should enter the address of your router. This might just be an IP address (such as 192.168.0.1), but some routers can be accessed via a web address (for example, Netgear routers use routerlogin.net).
You can find out the IP address of your router on a Windows computer by opening a command prompt (type cmd into the search bar) and entering the command ipconfig; the 'default gateway' IP is your router.
The IP or address may also be displayed on the router. Typically it’s located underneath or on the rear of the router itself.
You can now input your router login details, which will be the default admin ID and password unless it's been previously changed.
Once successfully logged in, you should be presented with a menu of options. Remember, not all routers are the same, but this guide should broadly apply to most, if not all, home routers.
Some router manufacturers can offer the user simplified controls. These are typically accessed via a friendlier user interface, such as a bespoke piece of software from the ISP. While these friendlier options can be useful for making basic changes, they may not offer all available settings of the router. That means it’s generally better to access your router’s admin controls through a web browser.
How to change your router settings
There are numerous settings that can be adjusted on your home router. Some of the most important are:
- Default admin passwords for the router.
- Wi-Fi network name (or SSID).
- Wi-Fi password and encryption.
- Parental controls.
- Changing the SSID (Wi-Fi network name).
Setting an admin password
The admin router password controls access to the router settings, and it's also often set to an insecure default password which will likely be the same for all routers from that manufacturer. So changing this should be the priority.
Create a unique password that’s not used anywhere else. It should be at least 12 characters long.
Admin password settings may be found under a "user management", "administration", or "security" menu.
Changing the Wi-Fi network name
If you find the Wireless section in the router's web interface, you can change the SSID or Wireless Network name. Remember, try to create a name that’s unique to you and your household, not just "PlusnetABC123" or "Linksys3456". You might not remember this as easily, and it could get confused with another user.
Don’t be tempted to hide your network’s name to keep it secret from other people. Some devices won’t correctly support hidden networks. Not to mention, your device can also leak the name when you're outside your home anyway. Unfortunately, the reality is that hackers will be easily able to find a hidden network anyway. As long as you have a good password, it shouldn’t matter if people can see your network name.
Changing the Wi-Fi password and encryption
Once the Wi-Fi network name is changed, locate the Wi-Fi network section. There you’ll be able to set a new password for your recently renamed Wi-Fi network.
At the same time, you can set your network encryption setting. Some levels of encryption are stronger than others, and that means it’s vitally important to safeguard your network.
Your router should display several different encryption types, such as WEP, WPA, WPA2, and perhaps even WPA3 if the router is very new.
Make sure the password type is set to WPA2 or WPA3, and not WEP. WEP is insecure and incredibly easy to crack. WEP used to be the standard for securing wireless networks, but it’s now been broken so many times that even novice hackers can bypass it.
After WEP, there was WPA, but this has flaws as well. It’s since been replaced by WPA2. It still isn't perfect, but it’s still one of the best available encryption levels for protecting home wireless networks. WPA3 is even better, but only if your router supports it.
Once you’ve decided on your encryption type, enter a secure password. To make things easier, you can use a unique passphrase. By passphrase, we mean several random words put together in a nonsense phrase. This way, it is easy to remember and say but still secure. You can come up with a passphrase yourself or generate a random passphrase with Diceware.
If your children are now accessing the internet, whether on a family computer or on their own iPhones or tablets, you might be worried about what kind of things they can see. There may be a section on your router that allows you to apply parental controls, to stop children from accessing unsuitable websites and content. If your router doesn’t have this option, you can use the free parental controls offered by many internet service providers.
Other useful router settings
So now you have changed some of the most important settings on your router, but there are other wireless settings that you could change:
- Wi-Fi network channel. Wi-Fi networks operate on different channels. Usually, this is set to auto by default. You should only need to change this if your Wi-Fi network regularly clashes with your neighbour's Wi-Fi network. Most routers are set to auto by default and tend to work out the best channel without any input from a human.
- Wi-Fi guest network. Create a guest network for visitors to your home, so they aren’t accessing your core home network. A guest network is also recommended for use with smart home gadgets, so a security flaw in these devices won’t expose your whole network.
- Firmware updates. Firmware updates are important as they often contain security patches and other fixes for your home broadband router. But follow the instructions carefully when applying firmware, as failure to properly install these could make your router unusable.
- Wi-Fi network frequency and bands. Some routers can transmit Wi-Fi networks in two different frequency ranges at the same time, namely 2.4GHz and 5GHz. In essence, 5GHz provides faster data over shorter distances. 2.4GHz, on the other hand, offers coverage for greater distances but may be slower. Some devices may only work on a particular frequency, but you can enable both at the same time and select the best signal for each device.
Resetting your router if anything goes wrong
Generally, tweaking a few settings on your router is perfectly safe. But if your forget your admin password and get locked out, or find that something isn't working right, you can reset your router to its default settings.
On the back of your router there'll be a recessed reset button. Check your manual for exact instructions, but usually you need to hold this down for 5-10 seconds until the lights flash in a particular order.
Just remember that this will wipe out any changes you've made and set it back to the state it was in when you got it out the box.
If it's the free router supplied by your ISP then this isn't a big deal as it will be set up for your broadband. But if you purchased your own router, you might need to do some configuration before it connects to the internet.
Some routers offer a backup feature for saving settings, so it's a good idea to make use of this before changing anything, just in case you need to roll back.
Other useful guides
- What is a broadband router? Beginner's guide to home broadband routers. A good place to start if you're completely new to this topic.
- What is Wi-Fi? Learn about wireless networking, including the differences between various Wi-Fi standards.
- Getting started with Wi-Fi networking. Beginner's guide to setting up a home Wi-Fi network.
- How to buy your own Wi-Fi router. How and why to replace the free router supplied by your ISP.
- How to secure a Wi-Fi router. An in-depth guide to broadband router security.
- Where's the best place to put a Wi-Fi router? A handy guide to achieve your best speeds at home.
Changing your router settings is something that most people can handle. It might look complicated, but all the information you need is usually on a sticker on the back or side of your router. Just type your IP address into your browser, and you can change your Wi-Fi name, password and anything else you need to. As well as that, you might be able to turn on parental controls or set up a guest network.
Hopefully, all of the above will give you an understanding of how to get some new settings on your home Wi-Fi router. Tackle the settings you feel comfortable changing. Otherwise, you might want to ask a friend or get in touch with your broadband provider’s tech support team for advice.
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