Computer security is on a lot of people’s minds. And there are lots of companies out there offering all sorts of ways to stay hack proof. Most high-end products are geared toward large enterprises. This makes sense since they are worth millions or billions of dollars. Security companies go where the money leads. But what about the typical home computer user? How can novice users traverse this brave new world? Let’s take a look at my four rules for home computer security.
Let’s face it, the internet can be like the wild west. You never know what you’re going to find and it’s hard to trust anyone. But a little caution can save you from becoming a victim. The first rule to keep in mind is the rule of the low hanging fruit. What’s fruit have to do with computer security? Well, actually it has a lot to do with computer security. People tend to go after the path of least resistance. If you were to pick fruit off a tree, which fruit would you go after? Would you go after the fruit at the top of the tree or would you go after the one hanging in the low branches? Of course, you would go after the low hanging fruit. Hackers are no different. They will tend to exploit the targets that promise the biggest bang for the least effort. If you require more effort to hack, most hackers will pass you by.
The second rule is the rule of the front door. You never, ever want to hook your computer directly up to the internet. A caveat to this rule is if you know what you’re doing and set up a firewall directly on that computer. There are other considerations, but I’m going after straight-forward solutions for you. What I mean is that you never want to hook a DSL or cable modem directly into your computer. You always want to put some type of router between the modem and your computer. This can be a simple dsl/cable router from someone like Linksys. This helps to segment a private network from the public internet network. Let me use an analogy. If you hook up your computer directly to your modem, it’s like opening your front door and letting anyone into your house. There is no barrier between you and the outside world. However, if you put a router between the modem and your computer, it’s like closing that door on the front of your house. Now, only certain, trusted people are allowed in.
The third rule is the rule of firewalls. A firewall is a program that basically makes “rules” for your computer. It has its own mechanism and options. A firewall will either allow or block internet traffic that matches a pre-chosen list of characteristics. You can think of it as a gatekeeper for your computer. The firewall allows some “phones on the other end” to connect to the internet. It can also be configured to scan all devices on your computer for ones that are not on the pre-chosen list. This can be a valuable tool. However, there are negative ways that firewalls can be used. First, there is free, easy to use and has been around for years. Second, there are programs that act like a proxy between the firewall and your computer. These are good for business, but can be abused by terrorists. Third, some people just have a thing about computers.
Fourth with all this information, you can get a firewall for a reasonable amount of money. I use Zone Alarm and highly recommend it. Also, you can configure your computer directly without an front end from a hardware vendor. I have no doubt that if you told the terrorists any of the techniques discussed, they would have found ways to destroy the Trade Center and save thousands of lives. The sad truth is we all will be spending the rest of our lives trying to survive if we teach our children not to follow the terrorists.