Network Security: Tips on Keeping Your Home Computer Safe


Network Security on Your Home Computer

No matter how much time you spend on your work computer, your home computer contains some of your most important files.  Our personal machines help manage our finances, social relationships, and professional lives, but we often don’t put in as much effort into keeping them secure.  Our computers contain a variety of personally identifiable information (PII), and it’s important to maintain sound computer and network security to protect your files.

Connecting Your Computer to a Secure Network

A network router is your first point of contact with the Internet.  Don’t just rely on your ISP (Internet Service Provider) or cable modem to perform comprehensive security monitoring.  An Internet connection starts with your modem, connects to your router, and feeds this information into your computer. Your router should be secure before connecting to the Internet.

Here are a few tips to maintaining network defense, once you are connected to a secure network.  First off, use a web browser with sandboxing capabilities. A sandbox is an isolated environment that mimics an entire computer system, which targets suspicious programs and analyzes potential threats.

Browsers with sandboxing capabilities are especially useful for recognizing advanced persistent threats (APTs).  These APTs are designed to escape detection, breaking through conventional security barriers, and gaining access to PII on your computer.  Sandboxes help capture these viruses and clear them out.

When you own a business, you want to keep your home computers well-defended because any crossover information between work and personal machines, through email or messaging apps, can cause a data breach.  A recent study found that 60% of small companies fail due to poor network security measures.

Sandboxing can be applied to a number of different programs, such as PDF readers.  A common means for viruses to attack your computer is through embedded URLs, where malicious executables can gain entry via PDF files.

Keep Everything Up-To-Date

While this may seem self-explanatory, many malware attacks occur because personal computers are not as diligently updated as company devices.  Make sure your computer has current versions of all software you run.

Updating programs like Microsoft Office to the 2007 version or a more current iteration is a good idea, since word-processing is a common function on home computers.  Microsoft Office 2010 offers a “Protected View” that opens documents in read-only mode, which blocks any viruses embedded in unfamiliar files.

Many applications have a feature that enables automatic updates.  Updating frequently is a good network security practice, since attackers typically exploit hosts that don’t have their software applications fully patched. Additionally, evaluate which programs you use most frequently and those you never seem to use.  Do some research on the software you wish to delete, and determine if removing them is possible.   Fewer applications on your computer workstation mean fewer channels for hackers.

Social Engineering and Phishing Attacks

Some of the most common attacks are executed through email.  A social engineering attack uses human interaction to obtain sensitive information on computers with vulnerable network security.  In these infected emails, a person can claim to be an employee, cleaning service, or someone else offering qualifications that would allow them to gather your confidential information.

Phishing tactics also use emails from attackers masquerading as reliable organizations to obtain personal details.  Often, these phishers will take advantage of events in the news (i.e., fake natural disaster fundraisers) and holidays (i.e. Christmas shopping deal scams) to steal account information.  They even go so far as to pose as reputable banks to issue fraudulent warnings, hoping that alarmed card holders will hand over their account credentials.


Keeping Your Home Computer Safe From Attacks

To avoid these attacks, install anti-virus and anti-spyware software, firewalls, or email applications that filter your inbox.  Whenever you are asked for sensitive information such as your credit card number or even your birthday, verify that your information isn’t falling into the wrong hands.

If you suspect that you’ve received a phishing email, call the organization the message claims to be from.  Use the contact info on the legitimate website, and ask about the email.

In general, don’t open unfamiliar links or messages with attachments, especially from email addresses not in your contacts.  Also, find out how to build a strong password and employ those methods for all of your accounts.  Secure and complex passwords should not only be used for WLANs but also for any devices in your home and work that use web interfaces (i.e., printers, self-automated light switch systems, etc.)

When it comes to protecting your personal information, there’s no such thing as taking too many precautions.  At Geek-Aid, we specialize in every kind of cyber security.  We all rely heavily on personal computers to manage many aspects of our lives, and keeping these devices secure is a top priority.