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Michael Horowitz 
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I will be speaking about Router Security at the O'Reilly Security Conference in New York City at the midtown Hilton Hotel (Sixth Ave and 53rd Street). The conference runs from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1, 2017. I am slated for Nov 1st at 3:50pm in the Sutton South room on the second floor.

 

From the beginning routers have been complex devices with more configuration options than anyone could possibly understand, myself included. On the whole, however, I view the complexity as a good thing, as it offers many options for better security. But, these dozens of options are too much for consumers to deal with.

So, when the time came in early 2016 for new mesh routers to appear on the market, hardware vendors took it as an opportunity to make routers more user-friendly by removing 90% of the features. By then, everyone had a smartphone so management of the router was moved from a web interface to a mobile app. But phones have small screens and thus little room for the many features that legacy routers offered. See the Google Wifi page for some critiques of its mobile app.

Some of the relatively new consumer-focused mesh routers that are managed solely with a mobile app are Eero, Google Wifi, Luma, Plume and Ubiquiti AmpliFi. The one exception had been Netgear, their Orbi routers still (as of April 2017) offer a full web interface with the classically large number of features. When the Linksys Velop system was introduced in January 2017 management of the system required a mobile app. In June 2017 they added a web interface, one that is similar to the interface on their WRT and Max-Stream routers. As far as I know, Velop, Orbi and the D-Link Covr are the only mesh router systems with a web interface (technically Cover is not a mesh system).

But, every coin has two sides. The flip side of easy-to-use is inflexible. Consumer focused mesh routers can hardly be tweaked at all. For example, they all have a single guest network. My favorite router, the Pepwave Surf SOHO can create three networks. Some Asus routers can create eight.

Still, this latest generation of routers is generally better than legacy models in a number of ways.

Mobile security, however, seems to be a downside. Configuring a legacy router always required you to enter a password. No more. There doesn't seem to be anything securing access to the mobile apps that control these newer routers. And, hardware vendors still drop the ball on UPnP, enabling it by default, no doubt, to minimize tech support calls. Shame on them.

Another trend with mesh router systems is the constant involvement of the hardware vendor in your network. With most of these systems you must establish an account with the hardware vendor and the mesh router phones home with unknown data. There are two downsides: no one knows exactly what data is being sent to the hardware vendor, and, should they go out of business, the router system is probably useless. Among the systems that require you to establish an account are eero, Google Wifi and Plume. Among the systems that do not require an account are the D-Link Covr and the Netgear Orbi. AmpliFi is in the middle. It only requires an account for remote admin access to the network. AmpliFi does not have its own accounts, it uses either a Google or Facebook account.

Finally, eero has a nice security feature. In the app, if you click on the message that says "9 connected devices" (see screen shot) it displays a list of devices that are "Currently on your network". For each device it shows the signal strength and current bandwidth, but not the name of the eero device its connected to (see screen shot). The nice feature is that right under this list is another list, one of devices "Recently on your network". And, since the eero app lets you give friendly names to devices (Bobs new iPad), this makes it easy to look for intruders. Screen shots were taken with the Android app in July 2017.



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This page was last updated: September 15, 2017 12PM CT     
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