Is your Wi-Fi connection spotty? Your network may simply be overloaded, or your router might need reconfiguring. But what if it's something more serious — and, if so, how can you tell if someone hacked your router? We’ll walk you through the warning signs of a hacked router. And get a VPN to secure your online connection and help protect the personal data you send and receive from being seen by unwanted third parties.
Router-hacking cybercriminals are swift and precise, spending countless hours spotting network vulnerabilities and ultimately compromising sensitive data.
Thankfully, this comprehensive router protection guide has got you covered. We’ll show you how to spot the signs of router hacking, help you fix a hacked router, and cover the steps you need to take to strengthen your router security.
10 signs of a hacked router
If you deal with these computer and network issues daily, there’s a good chance a hacker found a way to compromise your Wi-Fi router.
1. Router login failure
Having trouble logging into your router’s admin settings is an immediate sign of having your router hacked. Since passwords can’t change themselves, a hacker likely used some kind of password attack to break into your router’s settings. Cybercriminals use this access to create security flaws to further exploit your data.
Router protection tip: Use complex passwords for router admin profiles to prevent your passwords from being hacked.
2. Slow internet speed
Experiencing slower internet speeds is normal. There are a variety of factors that can affect an internet connection, such as router placement, weather conditions, and outdated firmware. However, experiencing slower speeds could also indicate that you’ve had your Wi-Fi hacked.
Router protection tip: Create a unique Service Set Identifier (SSID) — or name of your Wi-Fi network — to prevent your network from being identified.
3. Browser redirects
Browser redirects occur when your browser takes you to a completely different website than you intended to enter. Hackers who can get ahold of your router’s admin account can change domain and IP address settings to have all your traffic directed to where they’d like. This is usually a website hosting malware or other viruses that can further corrupt personal computers and networks.
Router protection tip: Regularly schedule router password changes and router reboots to patch security flaws that cybercriminals can exploit.
4. Suspicious network activity
You should habitually review your Wi-Fi activity logs to check for unfamiliar IP addresses that are using your internet. This could be an indication someone has unauthorized access to your network and could be silently siphoning any information they can find without triggering any alerts.
Router protection tip: Turn off Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS), which allows devices to connect to your Wi-Fi network without the use of a password, to avoid unauthorized access to your network.
5. Unfamiliar software downloads
Your device shouldn’t have any software that you don’t recognize or remember downloading. If it does, consider it a potential risk to your cybersecurity and delete it. Hackers often use drive-by downloads to install malicious software onto computers without the user’s knowledge or consent.
Router protection tip: Download strong antivirus software like Norton 360 Deluxe that can detect threats and help prevent malware from being downloaded onto your device.
6. Session hijacking
Session hijacking grants a hacker complete control over a device. They can move freely through systems, applications, and files as if they were sitting right in front of the computer.
Router protection tip: Regularly unplug and disconnect your router to give it a hard reset. Bump all users off of it to purge your router.
7. Ransomware messages
Some may find they have a hacked router by receiving ransomware messages in their email. Ransomware is a type of cyberattack capable of encrypting digital files, systems, and other assets until you pay a demanded ransom. If you don’t, they’ll threaten to destroy, sell, or expose your stolen items.
Router protection tip: Never respond to or pay ransom demands.
8. Fake antivirus notifications
Fake antivirus notifications, also known as scareware, alert you of a virus installed onto your device and pressure you to download an antivirus solution to destroy it. Though sometimes convincing, these are false advertisements. Hackers lace these downloads with malicious software capable of compromising your router and internet connection.
Router protection tip: Only use antivirus software from well-known and trusted companies.
9. Increase in pop-up advertisements
You can treat unsolicited pop-up ads similar to how you’d treat scareware. If you notice an increase in these unsolicited messages, it’s a telling sign of having your router and internet hacked. These ads also often have adware hidden inside to launch once they are installed onto your device.
Router protection tip: Never click or download anything from suspicious pop-ups.
10. Alerts from your internet provider
Finally, your internet provider might even alert you of increased or unusual activity on your network. And you should take those alerts seriously if you can verify they’re from your internet provider. To do this, call your internet provider directly and verify that they contacted you with this alert.
Router protection tip: Change your admin login credentials and reboot your router.
Common causes of a compromised router
Now that you know how to tell if someone hacked your router, you might also be wondering how people typically end up with a compromised router in the first place.
There are a few common causes.
Network vulnerabilities are a hacker’s best friend when it comes to breaking into home routers. A study surveying 127 homes found that each household’s router had at least over 100 vulnerabilities, compromising the Cyber Safety of all connected devices using that internet connection. These security gaps allow cybercriminals to install different types of malware that help hackers get ahold of your personal information.
Remote management allows people to connect to their router from remote locations. Though convenient for people traveling or working remotely, having this level of open access could potentially put your network at risk for session hijacking or browser hijacking.
Hackers who get a hold of and use this connection could take complete control over your computer. They’ll then transfer your data to themselves for future use or sell it on the dark web to the highest bidder.
How to fix a hacked router?
If you experience these issues and you’re sure there’s a hacker at large, follow these steps to help fix your hacked router.
Step 1: Disconnect the router from the internet
Disconnecting your router from the internet can stop the progress of cyberattacks from existing on your network.
- If you have a standalone router with cables, simply unplug your Ethernet cord from your router to immediately stop communication with your modem.
- If you have a wireless router, you can just switch off your internet connection.
Both actions can stop cyberthieves in their tracks.
Step 2: Reset the router
Resetting your router is often a quick fix for potentially hacked routers. In most cases, you can do a simple power cycle to clear your router’s memory and any malicious programs, then reset your IP address. All you need to do is unplug the router, wait 30 seconds, and plug it back in.
If this doesn’t work, resetting your router to its factory settings is the next best option. You can do this by locating the router’s power button — either mounted on the surface or nestled in the back — and holding it for at least 10-20 seconds or until a light flashes indicating a reboot.
Step 3: Change your account’s password
After resetting your router, the next step should be changing the login credentials to your router’s admin account. You don’t want hackers to be able to freely manipulate your internet’s security settings. A great option is to use a password manager to generate a secure, trustworthy password you can save in a safe location.
Step 4: Update the router’s firmware
A standard router security best practice is to update your router’s settings to automatically install firmware updates whenever they become available. This ensures your router can protect your network from new cyberthreats as they arise. If your router doesn’t have this feature, set yourself a personal reminder to update it every month.
Step 5: Contact the authorities (if necessary)
If you experience a hacked router paired with other crimes, such as identity theft and banking fraud, you should contact the authorities immediately. There is a high chance a cybercriminal used the information stolen from breaking into your router to carry out these crimes.
Router hacking protection tips
To help guarantee the Cyber Safety of your router and internet connection, consider the following router hacking protection tips.
Set up automatic firmware updates
Many routers come with the ability to automatically install firmware updates when they become available. This can help ease the fear of having your internet and router hacked by a cybercriminal with too much time on their hands.
Disable remote access
As mentioned, remote management allows you to access your router from anywhere with a working computer. Though convenient for you, hackers can easily misuse this feature to break into your private network and information. This is why we suggest disabling remote access altogether.
Schedule routine reboots
Similar to setting up automatic updates, scheduling a routine reboot every month or so is great for your router’s system. It helps renew its connections and wipe away any potentially malicious coding present. It also renews the public IP address associated with your router, often used by hackers to track your device’s network and internet activity.
Use complex passwords
Your router’s admin credentials are what keep hackers from being able to do what they want on your network. Keep your account safe by creating a strong, complex password. You should stay away from common phrases or guessable number combinations like “qwerty” and “12345”. Use a mix of numbers, letters, and symbols. And most importantly, never share your password with anyone.
Create a unique SSID
An SSID is what you see when you connect a new device to your internet. These come as default for most routers, but you should change them once you set them up in your home. Hackers can use a default SSID to identify service providers. They then look on the dark web for stolen credentials and use credential stuffing and password spraying attacks to compromise your router and network.
Take advantage of guest networks
Guest networks work well for those who have frequent visitors or have a lot of IoT devices hanging around the house. They work by creating a separate internet connection apart from the one your own devices are using. That way, if a guest’s device already has a virus on it, it won’t compromise your router and spread throughout your entire network.
Turn off WPS
Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) allows you to connect devices to your internet without requiring a password. Instead, you’d use an eight-digit PIN located on your router. This is not seen as secure, as most hackers can decode this supposed security PIN within hours. Turn WPS off and use a secure SSID and password to access your internet.
Install a VPN
A router is identifiable because of the public IP address associated with it. These are unique to each unit, so hackers know it's you once they’ve discovered your identity. To help mask these and become anonymous, you can download a VPN. Norton Secure VPN uses encryption to hide your IP address as well as your online activity connected to it.
Avoid suspicious links and attachments
Phishing emails with malware embedded inside is a popular trick hackers use to compromise routers and personal devices. If you come across an email you don’t recognize asking for money, login credentials, or any other strange request, delete it immediately.
Download antivirus software
This leads to our last router hacking protection tip, which is to download trusted antivirus software like Norton 360 Deluxe. Instead of analyzing every email for potentially harmful links or files, your antivirus software can help take care of it for you. Along with sending you alerts when threats arise, it also works to clean your system of the intruder.
So, if you’ve learned only one thing after reading this, it should be that you don't have to fear the day you potentially wake up to a compromised router. Learning how to tell if someone hacked your router is easier than you might think — it’s about looking for anything out of the norm. Consider this guide as another tool you can use to safeguard your online privacy.
Hacked Wi-Fi router FAQs
Still have questions about how to tell if someone hacked your router? We have answers.
How can I check if someone is using my router?
A simple way to see if you have a compromised router is to unplug it for 30 seconds. Then, look for a green light to display after it restarts.
Can someone access my Wi-Fi remotely?
Yes, hackers can access your router and Wi-Fi remotely, especially if you have either of the following:
- Remote management is enabled in your router’s settings.
- A weak router password that can be easily guessed.
How do I secure my Wi-Fi router?
You can help protect your Wi-Fi router by:
Setting up automatic firmware updates
- Disabling remote access
- Scheduling routine reboots
- Using complex passwords
- Creating a unique SSID
- Taking advantage of guest networks
- Turning off WPS
- Installing a VPN
- Avoiding suspicious links and attachments
- Downloading antivirus software
What can a hacker do with your Wi-Fi password?
If a hacker decodes your Wi-Fi password, they could potentially use your internet to steal private data from you and commit other online crimes.
How do I disable remote access to my router?
Log in to your router’s admin account and look for a “Remote Administration,” “Remote Access,” or “Remote Management” tab. Once you’ve clicked on it, make sure it’s disabled.
Does a router provide security?
Routers come with a standard amount of security, featuring a default firewall that helps block any malicious requests from the internet.