Russia home router hacking: How to avoid getting caught up in global cyber warfare

Your router might have been conscripted into the new cyberwar, and not even told you.

That’s the warning given by Washington and London as US and UK intelligence agencies attempt to stop people’s innocent computer accessories being used by Russia in major cyber attacks.

The governments said that Russia has been secretly running operations that see it allegedly putting malware onto internet routers and other equipment. Those might eventually be activated to some unknown but malicious end, it warned.

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Warnings about the danger of apparently innocent and harmless pieces of computer equipment have long been widespread. But the new statement – issued by the US Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre – makes clear that they fear targets could include “government and private-sector organizations,” as well as providers of “critical infrastructure” and internet service providers.

“Victims were identified through a coordinated series of actions between U.S. and international partners,” according to a companion technical alert issued by the U.S. Computer Emergency Response Team (US-CERT). Both nations have “high confidence” in the finding of Russian-sponsored cyber-meddling, which the alert said has been reported by multiple sources since 2015.

Russian hackers ‘targeting millions of devices around world’

But how should you avoid your router being an involuntary part of such a major attack? The answer might be to do much the same as you should already be doing.

Respected U.S. cybersecurity researcher Jake Williams said it was difficult for him to understand the motivation for Monday’s alert given that “the activity has been ongoing for some time.”

“Calling the Russians out on this hardly makes much sense unless there’s some other agenda (most likely political),” Williams, the president of Rendition Infosec, added via text message.

Still, the danger has been ever present and the advice to make sure that it doesn’t affect you has always been the same: make sure your router is as secure as possible, and as up to date as it can be, to make it difficult for malicious hackers to get into it.

If you’re using a router provided by your internet service provider – like the one given to you when you sign up for Sky or BT’s Home Hub – then it is likely that updates will come down to you automatically. But check by making sure with your service provider, and ensure that all of the security settings are up to date too.

In cases when you are not, the key thing is still to make sure that everything is up to date, but that might require a little more manual working. You should be able to find the option to do so from your routers settings.

And while you are in those settings, make sure everything in there is changed and as secure as it can be. Change all of the passwords from their default, for instance, and make sure that it is something difficult and hard to guess.

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