It’s pretty obvious that the internet has become a part of daily life in so many ways. It has become a valuable information resource, improved the way in which we communicate, improved shopping and entertainment, and shows up more and more in the things we own. Like anything, there are people who have been harmed. Some types of harm are financially through identity theft or stolen credit cards, harm to our children who encounter strangers online, and even our reputations can be harmed. As I read the various news stories that emerge here and there about these situations, one thing always seems to come to light as to why . . . when it comes to the online world we tend to forget about everything we have learned in terms of protecting ourselves and appropriate behavior. The truth is that the lessons we learned growing up, the safety precautions we take everyday, and teach our kids still apply online. So let’s start with the first one . . . ‘Locking the doors’.
Our doors to our house, cars, businesses, etc. all have locks. They have these for a reason. That reason is to keep out others that may seek to do us harm. Computers have locks too and are designed to do the same thing . . . keep others out that may seek to do us harm. These ‘locks’ come in the form of firewalls, encryption, and passwords.
A firewall is a software security system which blocks malicious content from coming in to a computer and going out. Think of it in terms of a security guard posted at your computer’s doorway that monitors incoming and outgoing data. Firewalls can be a hassle at times as well and be too good wherein they block everything making the computer difficult to work with. Often times the problem becomes where there are multiple firewalls running and the user is unaware. For example, microsoft windows (XP and newer) has it’s own firewall software that is by default turned on. Most anti-virus software also comes with firewall software. On top of that, if you have a router for your internet signal . . . that device often has a firewall system in the device. Therefore, it is possible for users to have 3 firewalls running at one time which can cause multiple user issues.
Pick one. and turn the others off. If you use a router, I recommend using the router’s security systems and turn the other firewall systems off. The Windows firewall often causes conflicts and most support services recommend turning it off anyway. If you are not using a router, use the firewall system within your antivirus software.
There are two basic ways that passwords are used: 1) To physically deny access to a computer, and 2) To deny access to accounts that have been created online. Let’s take a look at both.
All computers have a password protection system built in. Windows allows you to do this at several points:
1. You can create multiple user accounts (which is great if you are sharing a computer amongst family members) and password protect each. When the computer starts up, all of the accounts are visible and you select which one you wish to use. Then enter the password for that account. This way, the kids’ accounts can have custom controls set on their account and not access Mom and Dad’s accounts.
2. Coming back from a screen saver.
3. Individual folders that are shared over a home network. If you are in a multi-computer household, you can share files and folders amongst the computers. Some of those folders you may not want accessible to everyone and you can assign passwords and sharing on individual folders by right-clicking on the folder and selecting the ‘Sharing’ tab.
Passwords will also be assigned to online accounts for social networking, email, bills, etc. I recommend NOT using the same password for everything. Managing all them obviously presents a problem, but can be easily done through the use of a spreadsheet or individual text files. Whatever means you use to store all of the passwords, keep the folder locked or ‘buried’ somewhere.
Securing the Router
Router’s are becoming more and more prevalent in homes today. Wireless routers are a great means to broadcast your internet signal throughout the house and make use of the signal for a wide variety of devices (i.e. laptops, shared printers, iPod Touch, Blu-Ray players, TV’s, etc.). Here’s the kicker to wireless routers . . . the signal travels outside of your house for several feet. So if your router is not secure, anyone with a wireless capable computer or device can access the signal. If you are sharing files amongst computers, they can also access those files.
Routers have a lock down security features known as WAP and WEP encryption. Both provide a lengthy character access code when enabled. Any device attempting to use the signal must enter the assigned code. Once set up on a device, you don’t have to worry about entering it again since it becomes stored on the device. WAP is a better feature, but WEP is suitable as well.
These are just some ways you can ‘lock the doors’ on your computer use. In Part II of the series, we’ll take a look at custom settings for the kids. What are your thoughts?