The FBI wants you to factory reset your router. Here's how to do it
The VPNFilter malware problem is getting worse. Here's how to safeguard your home network, and a list of the affected models.
Rick BroidaSenior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
According to a new report from security firm Cisco Talos, the VPNFilter malware is "targeting more makes and models of devices than initially thought, and has additional capabilities, including the ability to deliver exploits to endpoints."
That means if you own one of the affected routers -- and that list has expanded to include models from Asus,
, Ubiquiti, Upvel and
-- it's strongly recommended that you perform two key steps: upgrade the firmware and then factory-reset the router.
Ugh. This is going to suck. But we can get through it.
Step 1: Upgrade your router's firmware
In some ways this is the easier step, as it can often be done within the confines of your router's dashboard. Firmware is just the core software that operates the router, and updating it usually involves little more than a download and a few automated router restarts.
Of course, if you've never so much as looked at that dashboard, well, it may be time for a trip to the owner's manual -- or the router manufacturer's online help pages.
Because the firmware-update process varies from one make and model to another, here's a quick, generalized overview -- one that's based on upgrading an Asus WRT router.
Step i: Visit the Asus support site and download the most current firmware for your specific model.
Step ii: Open a browser window, type in 192.168.1.1 and press Enter. This will take you to the router's dashboard page -- but you may need a username and password to gain access. If you never changed the defaults, you should be able to find them in the instruction manual. (Often, the defaults are "admin" and "password," respectively.)
Step iii: Click the Administration button (again, this is just for Asus routers; on other models it might be Configuration or Firmware or the like), then the Firmware Upgrade tab.
Step iv: Click Choose File and locate the firmware file you downloaded in Step 1. Then click Upload to perform the update.
This may take a few minutes, and your router will likely restart at least once during the process. Needless to say, you'll lose all internet connectivity while this is happening.
And, again, this is just one example of the firmware-update process. It's a common one, but the steps may be different for your model.
Watch this: Russian hackers targeting your router: Here's what to do
Step 2: Factory-reset your router
Now for the big hassle. You probably know that you can reboot or reset your router by pulling the power cord for a few seconds and then plugging it back in. But a factory reset is a little different. True to its name, it restores all the settings to their original, factory state, so once it's done, you get to have the fun of setting up your home network again.
Before you get started, make sure to write down the name and password of each Wi-Fi network currently configured on your router. You might have just one; I've seen houses that had five. You'll want to note these so you can recreate them verbatim after the factory reset.
Why is that important? Because if your current "SmithLAN" network becomes "Smith LAN" after the reset (just because you forgot and added a space this time), now you'll have to manually reconnect every device in your house to that "new" network. Hassle city.
The actual reset should be pretty easy. On some
routers, for example, there's a small reset button on the unit itself. You press and hold it for 10 seconds and that's it. Alternately, you may be able to sign into the dashboard and execute the reset from there. In the aforementioned Asus example, in Step 3, you'd click the Restore/Save/Upload tab and then the Restore button.
Again, consult your router manual (or router's website) for the correct factory-reset steps for your model.
Here are links to the support directories for some of the affected routers (the complete list is in the next section):
When it's done, you'll have to venture into the dashboard and recreate your networks. Thankfully, with your firmware upgraded and any trace of VPNFilter eradicated, you should be safeguarded from future attacks -- of this particular malware, anyway.
Which routers are affected?
Courtesy of Cisco Talos, here's a current list of the models that can be affected by VPNFilter. Those identified as new weren't included in the original report.