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A hacker can rent a Cloud-enabled computer and guess your network's password in minutes. For illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Supplied

New Delhi: Next time when you connect smartphone or a laptop to relatively secure home Wi-Fi, you might actually be surprised how easy it is to hack into your home Wi-Fi network, courtesy that router installed by your Internet Service Provider (ISP).

A small vulnerability in the home Wi-Fi network can give a criminal access to almost all the devices that access that Wi-Fi. This could spell trouble for bank accounts, credit card details, child safety and a whole lot of other concerns.

Trouble could come in the form of a neighbourhood kid who piggybacks on your Internet service. While he plays video games online and talks to his friends over VOIP (Internet-based) telephone service, your Internet service may become sluggish.

But an unsecured home wireless system can also be used to commit crime.

According to the US Department of Justice, law enforcement officers will come knocking on your door if someone uses your Internet connection to upload or download child pornography.

And the bad guys don't have to live next door. Powerful Wi-Fi antennas can pull in a home network's signal from as far away as over 4 kms.

According to Finnish cyber security firm F-Secure, for very little money, a hacker can rent a Cloud-enabled computer and guess your network's password in minutes by brute force or using the powerful computer to try many combinations of your password.

The US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) recently issued an alert about Russia-sponsored hackers carrying out attacks against a large number of home routers in the U.S.

According to Sanjay Katkar, Joint Managing Director and CTO, Quick Heal Technologies, cyber criminals are known to exploit vulnerabilities in home Wi-Fi routers by delivering a payload.

"Once infected with the malware, the router can perform various malicious activities like redirecting the user to fake websites when visiting banking or other e-commerce sites," Katkar told IANS recently.

The hackers can also use the infected router for the distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks and other illegal activities. In a DDoS attack, the incoming traffic flooding the victim originates from many different sources.

"In addition to stealing personal and financial data, cyber criminals can also infect smart devices connected to the home network," Katkar warned.

To make your home wi-fi extra secure, make sure your wireless router is using WPA2, the most secure type of Wi-Fi connection, on your home system (WPA stands for "Wi-Fi Protected Access.")

Older routers may still use the first generation of Wi-Fi security (called WEP), but it is easy to crack and is no longer considered secure.

However, Mathy Vanhoef who is a security expert at Belgian university KU Leuven has even discovered a flaw in the wireless security protocol WPA2, exposing wireless internet traffic to malicious eavesdroppers and attacks.

Sometimes router's firmware, like any other software, contains flaws that can become major vulnerabilities unless they are quickly fixed by firmware releases from the manufacturer.

"Always install the latest software available on the system and download the latest security patches to ensure no security hole or breach is left open to online predators," says Norton.

Secure passwords are long and complex. The longer and more complicated the password, the more difficult it will be for someone (or someone with a password-cracking software programme) to figure it out.

When it comes to public Wi-Fi, signing frequently into free Internet at hotels, coffee shops, conferences or shopping malls is very dangerous, especially if there is lack of multi-layered security and encryption.

In a bid to benefit millions of Internet users and connect the next billion users, tech giants are rolling out free public Wi-Fi access in various cities in India.

In a recent survey by Russia-based software security group Kaspersky Lab, 70 per cent of tablet owners and 53 per cent of smartphone/mobile phone owners stated that they use public Wi-Fi hotspots.

"However, because data sent through public Wi-Fi can easily be intercepted, many mobile device and laptop users are risking the security of their personal information, digital identity and money," said Kaspersky Lab.

A VPN (virtual private network) connection can protect you online. Also make sure all of your devices are protected by a good anti-malware and security solution and ensure that it's updated regularly.