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5 settings to change on your new router

Here are five basic settings to look at when configuring a Wi-Fi network router.

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My cable provider's modem -- which also acts as my router -- stopped broadcasting a Wi-Fi signal last week. So, I pulled out my old Cisco Wi-Fi router to keep the fire burning until I mustered up the will to visit the Comcast store.

After setting up my old router last week and the new Comcast modem last night, I have a few pointers to share for setting up a Wi-Fi router.

1. Change the network name and password

To change the username and password, you'll need to log into your router's web utility in your browser. Comcast launched its web utility as soon as I connected my laptop to its Wi-Fi network, but if yours doesn't automatically launch, look for the URL for the web utility in your manual. Or you can google it by searching for "[your router name] ip address". For many routers, the address is 192.168.1.1 or 192.168.0.1.

Once you're on that web utility page, you'll need to log in again, but the login information won't be the same as your Wi-Fi login. Usually, the username is "admin" and the password is "password", but you can change these credentials after logging in for the first time. If that combination doesn't work, check your router's manual.

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Now you can give your router a unique name and password.

In the web utility, head to the Wi-Fi settings page. Look for a field for Network name or SSID and change the default name to something of your own creation. Also on this page or the Wi-Fi security page, you can change the default password. Choose a password -- or better yet, a passphrase -- that you'll remember but isn't too easy to guess.

2. Choose a security mode

If you set a strong password for your router, then you have taken the first step of securing your network and not leaving it open for anyone to access. With a password set on a modern router, you are most likely using WPA or WPA2 encryption.

WPA, or Wi-Fi Protected Access, is a 256-bit encryption protocol that is more secure than the older, weaker WEP standard that uses 64- or 128-bit encryption. WPA2 improves upon WPA by using a stronger encryption algorithm; WPA2 uses the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) algorithm that is more secure than WPA and its TKIP (Temporal Key Integrity Protocol) algorithm.

Many routers offer a mixed-mode of WPA and WPA2 so that older devices that pre-date WPA2 can connect to your network, but WPA2 has been around for more than 10 years so I'd wager that most, if not all, of your network devices are compatible with WPA2. When choosing the security mode for your router, I would go with WPA2 -- often listed as WPA2-PSK (AES) -- and only switch to mixed mode if you have an ancient device that won't connect to your WPA2-protected network.

3. Check network mode and bands

If your router is new, odds are it's a 802.11ac model, which broadcasts in two frequencies: 5GHz and 2.4GHz. These are the frequencies with which your wireless network broadcasts radio waves to transmit information. Both frequency bands should be on by default, but in the Wi-Fi area of your router's web utility, check the status of both to make sure they are active.

The 2.4GHz band is more crowded because it's the frequency many common electronics in your household use, from cordless phones and baby monitors to garage door openers and microwaves. You might run into network interference with 2.4GHz, but it allows older devices to connect to your network. The 5GHz band is less congested and faster but has shorter range than the 2.4GHz band.

With both modes operating, your router will choose the best mode for each of your network devices.

4. Enable parental controls

In the web utility, look for a Parental Controls or Access Restrictions section to establish some boundaries for your kids' devices.

You can restrict access to certain sites, though keeping your kids out of the Internet's dark corners by blacklisting individual sites seems like a Sisyphean effort. You can block sites entirely or during certain hours of the day.

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

You can also block a network device, like your kid's iPad, from accessing the internet during certain hours of the day, which will put an end to late-night Snapchatting or Netflix sessions. You will need to enter the MAC address of the device you want blocked so your router can identify it. On an iPad or iPhone, for example, you can find the device's MAC address by going to Settings > General > About. You want the number listed for Wi-Fi Address, which is what iOS calls the MAC address.

5. Disable remote management

This setting is usually disabled by default but it's worth checking to make sure it is.

In the Advanced section of your router's web utility you should see a Remote Management or Remote Access area. Make sure this setting is disabled, which means you'll need to be connected to your router's local network in order to access the web utility.

If this setting is turned on, then someone could gain remote access to your router and change your settings and knock you off of your own network.

With your Wi-Fi network up and running, learn how to extend its range with a power line adapter.