Security Corner

Jan 31 2009   3:58PM GMT

Five Essential Steps to Secure Your Home PCs & Network

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

When we buy an appliance, we expect to be able to take it home, take a brief glance at the instructions for setting it up, plug it in and go. For most things, this expectation is fulfilled, even, unfortunately, for the home PC. In fact, once you get a few things plugged into the back of it all you have to do is turn it on and start surfing. When you first start a Windows PC, there’s a short setup routine that asks if you want to turn on Automatic Updates (recommended), but little else in the way of how to properly secure your PC and the network it’s plugged into.

PC makers should at least provide a short, animated tutorial or video that explains these five essential steps to securing a home PC and network:

1. Install a NAT router. Inexpensive, and easy to configure, a NAT (Network Address Translation) router is your first line of defense on the Internet. While the Windows firewall is on by default these days, if your PC is plugged directly into your broadband router, you’re visible to everyone on the ‘Net. The router takes this live Internet address and translates it to a private address that is invisible to anyone on the outside.

2. Change the router default password. All routers come pre-configured with a default login and password. These are well known and lists are posted on the Web. Here’s an example of one that’s searchable by router model: http://www.routerpasswords.com/. While an attacker normally can’t get to this from the outside, if you somehow get infected with remote control malware, an attacker can get to it from your computer. He can change the settings to send you virtually anywhere he wants you to go. Not good.

3. Install and/or update a security suite. Most PCs these days come bundled with either anti-virus or a full security suite like McAfee Internet Security, Norton Internet Security or the like. My favorite is ESET Smart Security; unfortunately, this isn’t one that you’ll see bundled with a new PC. Make sure the software is up to date and make sure it will update itself automatically.

4. Turn on Automatic Updates. You should have done this when you set up the computer, but if you haven’t, do it now by following these instructions.

5. Learn about and follow safe computing practices. All of the security devices and software in the world won’t help you if you click on pop-ups, open every email you get, click on random links, and generally practice unsafe surfing. Unfortunately, this is the one of the main reasons why the criminals continue to succeed. Take some time to learn how to be safe on the ‘Net by taking advantage of these free resources:

Nine Steps to System Security – 2008: http://tinyurl.com/6nt2jr
Home Network Security: http://www.us-cert.gov/reading_room/home-network-security/
Recognizing and avoiding email scams: http://www.us-cert.gov/reading_room/emailscams_0905.pdf
Protecting your privacy: http://www.us-cert.gov/cas/tips/ST04-013.html
Avoiding Social Engineering and Phishing Attacks: http://www.us-cert.gov/cas/tips/ST04-014.html

Good luck, and be careful out there.

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