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Clarify Technical Services - Tip #5

Some tips and techniques for securing and protecting the home network and the computers on it.

Applies to: Microsoft Windows, All current versions.
Last updated: Tuesday March 21, 2006

PROCEDURE

Securing the home network

Assuming you are using some kind of broadband connection it is important to take a few simple steps to ensure network security at home. These days it is control of your broadband connection that the bad guys are after, not damaging your computer and data like the good old days. Make sure you use a router or ''residential gateway'' at home. This device sits between your computers and your broadband connection (DSL or cable modem) and acts like a traffic cop, only allowing good traffic in. And since a router isn't a windows PC is isn't susceptible to the numerous security holes and vulnerabilities found in Microsoft Windows. If you already have a router make sure a few things have been done.

Hardware:

All routers:

  1. Change the password for accessing the router.
  2. Disable remote configuration.
  3. Disable universal plug and play (UpnP) if your router has it. This allows software to configure your router without asking you. Including the hacker's software.
The first two will prevent the hackers from configuring your router from the outside world, thereby opening their own doors. The third will prevent them from doing the same thing from inside your local network.

Wireless routers:

  1. If you do not use the wireless capabilities, disable it.
  2. Change the default SSID name. Don't use your name or street address
  3. Enable WPA encryption.
  4. If you have an older router that doesn't support WPA use WEP. Better yet, upgrade to a newer router that does support WPA.

Software:

The router is, by it's nature, a good hardware firewall which will protect the computers on the home network from most intrusions and attacks comming in from the internet but we still need to have some security software on all of the computers.

AntiVirus software:

If you have a current subscription to Norton of McAffee then keep using that until it expires. Then it will be time to use a good free one. I recommend AVG Antivirus from Grisoft.com http://free.grisoft.com. Another good free one is AntiVir from Avira http://www.free-av.com/.

Anti-Spyware:

If you are using Windows XP/2000 use Microsoft Defender fromhttp://www.microsoft.com/athome/security/spyware/software/default.mspx. If you are running Win 9x/ME use ''Spybot Search and Destroy'' available from Safer Networking http://www.safer-networking.org/en/download/.

Browsers:

I recommend everyone use Mozilla Firefox as their default web browser. It is safe, fast, and has a built in popup blocker. You can download it for free from Mozilla.com http://www.mozilla.com/firefox/. If you find web pages that don't work or display properly in Firefox, you can simply cut and paste the url from the address bar into Internet Explorer. Just make sure you go back to Firefox when you are finished at that site.

Software firewalls (optional):

If you are using Windows XP make sure you are running Service Pack 2 and turn on the firewall.
If you are using Win 9x/ME/2000 and want to run a software firewall, you can get a good free one from Sunbelt Software http://www.sunbelt-software.com/Kerio.cfm. The free version works well and the full version is also a good deal at $14.95 US.

Behavior (also optional):

This is not actually software but covers personal behavior and safe computing practices. The best way to protect yourself and your systems from infection is to also practice ''safe surfing'' techniques. These include the following

  1. Don't use pirated software. Make sure all your software and operating systems are legal and licensed.
  2. Do not open email attachments. I know, it's tough but at least try to confirm that the sender actually sent you the attachment before opening it.
  3. Stay away from porn and gambling websites and chat rooms.
  4. Don't use P2P file sharing software designed to download illegal music and software. These include Kazzaa, Limewire, Gnuttella, Grokster, etc.
  5. Don't allow websites to install software on your system ''Just say NO''.
  6. Don't click ''OK'' on popup windows even if they offer to fix something. Trust me, they won't.
  7. Whenever you are not sure, don't. If you are not sure about the site you are on, or the page you are viewing simply close your browser.