What's a router?

Staying safe in the digital world, what I call “internet street smarts,” continues to be a hot topic in 2018. “Security” and “privacy” will be digital world challenges for some time to come. Why?

As the internet, aka the cloud, is “borderless,” nefarious actors can be located stateside and/or internationally. This makes it hard to track down perpetrators. By now you may have heard about the FBI advisory to reboot your router to avoid being a potential victim. National media, in most cases, is dispersing the information verbatim and in repetition. Although I wonder how many will actually go through with this as this week I have been asked, multiple times, what a “router” is.

Before I begin, let’s remember that internet is just another utility service coming into your house, just like your water or electricity line. Back to the question ...

The answer actually depends on what is supplied by your internet service provider (or ISP for short). In the good ol’ days, ISPs would provide you with only a “modem” because most households only had a computer to connect to the internet and that computer was connected by a wire to the modem.

As the proliferation of the internet continued and technology such as Wi-Fi was invented, ISPs recognized that many households now had more than one device that needed to connect to the internet. The consumer industry came out with one device that combined the functions of a modem and a router with the ability to connect your devices wirelessly. Many, including yours truly, still have two physical devices while many have only one physical device (often referred to as a “home gateway”).

A modem is akin to your main shutoff valve for your city water. Without a modem, the internet line will not be able to come into your house.

City water that reaches the main shutoff valve of your house is then spread out to your bathroom, kitchen and other faucets through the inner piping in your house. You can think of the router as providing that inner piping but instead spreading internet to the different devices in your household – both wired and wirelessly.

So if you have only one device provided by your ISP, turn power to that device off, count to 15 and power it back on. If you have two devices, the device connected by wire to the wall or wire coming out of the wall is the modem and the device connected to that modem is the wireless router; take the same steps above to the wireless router.

Devices such as the wireless routers also have an operating system – just like computers have Windows or MacOS – called firmware that is upgradable like the computer operating systems. However the process of upgrading the firmware is not straightforward to non-techies. In my opinion the industry should do better so newer firmware with security vulnerabilities resolved can be applied easily by anyone to avoid these kinds of situations.

Tak Sato

Strategist and technologist with over 25 years of experience. Holds Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Science and Executive MBA from Cleveland State University.

As Founder for the Center for Aging in the Digital World, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit empowering seniors with digital literacy, Tak connects the dots to help people utilize appropriate technology in their personal and professional lives.

Read More on The Digital World
Volume 10, Issue 11, Posted 9:59 AM, 06.05.2018