Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin: October 2013

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If your network is not secured, you might have unwanted visitors using your network to access the Internet, access your files, or plant a computer virus.

We rely on our home network to connect our various electronic devices to each other and the Internet. You might use it for your laptops wireless Internet connection, or for your new TV’s Internet features, or for your kids’ bedtime story read from your tablet. Simply, your home network might get a lot of use. But who’s to say you are the only one using it?

You might be surprised to learn how easy it is for someone to find and access an unsecured computer network. The first home networks were a chore to put together, and if you had the knowledge to do it you also knew a little about how to protect it. Now home computer networks are plug and play. You no longer have to be a guru to set up a home network, and if you have any trouble, help is just a call or an email away. Many devices will walk you through setting up at least basic security, but even if you believe your network device came pre-secured, it is worth the effort to check and make sure.

If your network is not secured, you might have unwanted visitors using your network to access the Internet, access your files, or plant a computer virus. But don’t fret – securing your network is easy. There are a bunch of tips that follow. You can choose some or all, depending on your comfort level.

A Quick Word on Passwords

If you start talking about security, you have to mention passwords. Passwords should be hard to guess yet easy to remember. It’s best to use letters, numbers, special characters, and punctuation. We’ve all used names of our family, pets, or favorite sports teams, but they are the ones most easily guessed. Instead, pick a memorable phrase and use the first letter of each word, adding numbers or punctuation in place of similar letters.

Your Home Network

Your home network is made up of all the devices connected to each other. Often, these devices are also connected to the Internet.

The devices can include routers, modems, printers, video game consoles, smartphones, tablets, and laptops. The list goes on. Everyday new devices are finding new ways to benefit from being connected to your network and the Internet.

First Line of Defense

The hardware at the heart of your network can come with built-in defenses against intrusion. Routers are the hub for your home network, and many have firewall protection software built into them. The firewall allows or blocks traffic into and out of a private network. A firewall can be a device or software, and it filters data traffic between your network and the Internet. Most firewalls will allow you to create a list of Web addresses that are off limits.

Wireless Protection

If you are using a wireless router, you should make sure you create a strong password and enable encryption. Unprotected wireless networks are easy to find and attack. Encryption options are either Wireless Encryption Protocol (WEP) or Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA); the latter is more secure than the former.

When you set up your wireless router, you have the option of creating a name for the device. This is what you see when you search for available networks with your wireless devices. This device network name is called the SSID. You also have the option to turn off SSID broadcasting, making your wireless network invisible to anyone searching for wireless networks. If you have already connected your wireless devices to your network, they will normally remember the network name and password in the future. If you want a new device to access your wireless network, instead of searching for your network simply type the network name and password into the device.

Software Solutions

After the firewall device or software, anti-virus software is the next, most important tool to protect your network. New viruses are released daily; always remember to keep anti-virus programs up to date.

To complete your defenses you can add anti-spyware or anti-adware programs to your arsenal. These programs will target applications that track your online activities and send information to other computers. Many companies offer software packages that bundle together anti-virus, firewall and anti-spyware programs.

Is It Working?

If your computer tries to contact another computer, your firewall should alert you. Keep a close eye on any messages you might see. You will be able to approve connections you know are OK, like your anti-virus program that is trying to download a new update.

Keeping Your Network Safe

Now that you’ve locked down your network from outside intrusion, keep it safe by not inviting any trouble in. How you use the Internet can play a key role in keeping your network safe.

Avoid opening suspicious email messages or, if it looks OK and you do open it, don’t click on any hyperlinks if you don’t recognize the person who sent it.

If you want to make sure you’re visiting the right Web site, type the URL directly into your browser’s address bar.

The most important tips to remember are to make sure your wireless router is encrypted with a strong password and to always keep your anti-virus software up to date. If you take a little time to protect your home network, it will keep you and your devices safe and securely connected.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin : October 2013

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