You’re considering a Wi-Fi mesh network because you’re fed up with that one place in your house that didn’t have reception. But does the convenience of these systems provide the same security as other routers?
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We understand why you might be asking this question: Mesh networks include multiple devices, and they are just as much SmartHome devices as they are routers (and smart devices are scrutinized for security purposes). In addition, systems such as the Google Wi-Fi System or the Eero Home Wi-Fi System may hide advanced settings that may affect the security settings you can toggle.
This makes us wonder: how secure are mesh networks? Here is a summary.
Encryption is identical to other routers
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If you’re worried about encryption, don’t worry: Wi-Fi network systems use standard levels of protection. We have explained what Wi-Fi security settings mean, but in short, you should be using WPA2 with AES security. This is an exact specification for the main Wi-Fi mesh networks in use today, and often they don’t even offer any alternatives. This is good: there is no reason to use anything other than the most secure settings at the moment.
Centralized system with automatic updates
If you’re currently using a single router, you might consider purchasing a Wi-Fi extender to reach more points in your home, or even use your computer as a repeater. And while it’s not a bad idea, there’s one thing to watch out for: you now support multiple different network devices.
This can be good if you’re the kind of person who likes to think about networks, resolve conflicts, and tweak things. If not, a Wi-Fi mesh network provides multiple identical devices that work well with each other, meaning you only need to set up one system.
More importantly, mesh Wi-Fi systems install security updates automatically and for all parts of your network. This means that security flaws, such as the KRACK vulnerability discovered a few months ago, will be fixed in your home without much intervention from you.
This is not the case if you have a router and multiple extenders to serve. You need to update the firmware on your router and then on each of your extenders to block everything. Mesh Wi-Fi networks are much easier to keep up to date, and keeping up to date is all about security. Don’t forget about it.
Easy to set up with good security features
Tech enthusiasts know how to access their router’s firmware: enter the IP address and use the web interface to make changes. However, most people do not know that you you can set up their router, which means they’ll never do it.
Modern Wi-Fi mesh systems are changing that with easy-to-use smartphone apps. This makes it easier for regular users to do things like change WPA passcodes and ensure updates are installed. Some even have easy-to-use parental controls that can make the Internet safer for kids.
All of this helps protect you, but traditional router settings mean that most people interact with their router by unplugging it and plugging it back in. Most people never touch their router settings; a simple user interface can change this, which is very important for security.
Of course, friendly user interfaces are not unique to mesh networks; many recent releases offer similar functionality. But mesh networks like Google Wi-Fi were the first to make it easier to manage multiple access points, which is a big plus compared to managing a router and an extender. Combine this with the usually secure default settings and you have a more secure setup than most.
Some advanced features won’t be there
Of course, for advanced users, the opposite can also be true, because some settings are completely missing and most grid systems. If you’re the type who swears by extra security measures like whitelisted MAC addresses, you might not like the stripped-down user interface provided by Eero, Google Home, and other Wi-Fi providers.
This is not true for the vast majority of users, but it is worth knowing about it before making an expensive purchase. And there are workarounds: you can use Eero in bridge mode, for example, and still have access to advanced features provided by your current router. Our advice: do your research before buying.