How-to: Brick Your Router with Firmware

Much as I love the MakeUseOf site for news and advice, some of the how-to articles advocate some really dumb things. Don't do this one!

The tutorial Does Your Wi-Fi Speed Drop? Here’s Why and 7 Tips to Fix It features the priceless gem:

Update Your Firmware

In three grossly over-optimistic paragraphs, it invites you to a whole world of hurt:

As with other areas of your digital life, you should ensure that your router's firmware is up-to-date. These updates often come with many bug fixes along with essential security patches, which can make your Wi-Fi speed faster solve all connection issues.

Make sure to update your firmware before diving into any further troubleshooting, as it may save you hours of fruitless work. If you were already running the latest firmware, then reboot the router to clear the cache and reset the software.

Likewise, if you're experiencing low speeds on a particular device, check for any outstanding software updates. Most connected devices offer system updates and app updates. It's worth checking all are installed and confirm whether the issue still exists before continuing to troubleshoot.

MUO aims at a mythical mass-market tech-savvy consumer. I think. Sometimes I struggle to identify who their audience is. Point is, three decades in IT, even I struggle with router firmware.

This piece of advice assumes several things:

  • the reader knows how their router works
  • they know what firmware is
  • they know how to find updates for the specific model of router
  • they know how to download it
  • they have a comprehensive and clear set of instructions ho to update it
  • they understand how to back out the update to the original firmware if it doesn't work
  • the network and ISP aren't reliant on key features and settings of the old firmware being replaced.

This is not easy.

This is not simple.

This is not casual user/hobbyist-level tinkering.

This is hard.

Let's be clear, get this wrong and you brick your router. Possibly permanently. If it fails you can't get online to look for another solution. Look it up on your phone and you may not be able to get the solution onto your router to apply it.

Why is this so incendiary to me?

Because I've done it. There is a TP Link router sitting here, with new firmware applied that should work. I doesn't. I have the original firmware backed up. I can't restore it. The restore process fails. It is now a brick.

I've updated several routers in the past. I was methodical, prepared, did the research, collated several sources to ensure I was doing the right thing with the right model and software versions.

It still failed.

Fortunately it was a spare router a supplier sent in error that wasn't the one I specifically ordered (they replaced it but didn't want this one back because nobody wanted it. It's no great loss, but that's not the point.

The manufacturer's instructions and software failed. And I supposedly know what I'm doing.

I have another issue with this piece of advice.

Update the router firmware to fix the Wi-Fi speed? Of course, why didn't I think of that?

Of all the issues people have with Wi-Fi, it's almost never a problem with the firmware.