Advantage & Disadvantage of Routers
By Andy Walton
A router is one of the most important components on a network, directing traffic across networks and allowing computers to communicate over large distances. However, routing traffic in this way is not without its disadvantages, including the potential introduction of security vulnerabilities onto your network. Examining the advantages and disadvantages of routers can help you to decide whether all your business's networks need to be contactable from the outside world.
Communicate Across Networks
Perhaps the most fundamental advantage of routers is that they allow for computers to communicate with devices in other networks. Routers are adaptable, maintaining constantly changing routing tables in order to forward traffic to its destination in the most efficient way possible. This means that if an external network component fails, a router will usually be able to recognize this and route traffic so as to avoid the failed component. Large scale cross-network communication would be very difficult without routers to proactively manage traffic in this way.
In addition to their principal traffic routing duties, routers offer a convenient platform for other network services. For example, because a router virtually always sits at the edge of a network – in design terms at least – it can be combined with a hardware firewall to create a single device that both routes traffic and manages network security. Routers that are integrated with modems and wireless access points are also common, with a wireless modem-router often the only hardware needed to create a small network.
A compromised router represents a major security problem, providing a gateway for malware to access a network. A 2013 study by testing organization Independent Security Evaluators showed that of thirteen small office routers, every one could be compromised by gaining login access to that router. Accessing a router in this way allows users to intercept traffic as it enters and exits the network, meaning that unencrypted traffic could be read or altered by a third party.
Routers only work with routable protocols. A routable protocol is a network addressing standard that gives devices unique addresses which can be used across multiple networks. This contrasts with non-routable protocols, which only assign local addresses to devices. Using a non-routable protocol with a router would create problems, as two networks might assign the same address to two different machines. While this is not a problem when those machines are on separate networks, using a router to allow communication between the networks would create an addressing conflict.
Andy Walton has been a technology writer since 2009, specializing in networking and mobile communications. He was previously an IT technician and product manager. Walton is based in Leicester, England, and holds a bachelor's degree in information systems from the University of Leeds.