Whether you primarily use a desktop computer, a laptop device, your phone or an iPad, the benefits of having a secure home computer network (either wired or WiFi) are endless: lower chances of contracting a virus, faster network speeds, more secure online shopping; the list could go on, but those are the big three.
If you’re one of the millions of people who have concerns about using your debit card online because you think it gives people direct access to your money (not just your line of credit), think again. Whether Visa or MasterCard powers your debit card, you’re not liable for ANY unauthorized charges to your account. It’s true. And if you’d rather just use your credit card for the points or miles, keep in mind that when you use your credit card instead of cash (or a cash equivalent, as in a debit card) you actually spend (on average) 10-15% more. It turns out our brain’s pain receptors are not activated when we use plastic, but when we use cash, they are as active as if zombies were eating us alive.
Enter the home network: just a few simple steps to protect your computers and networked devices, and you’ll be surfing the interwebs faster and more securely than ever before. You’ll be able to sleep at night knowing that your secure transactions are just that: secure.
Let’s start with the computer you’re on right now.
Make sure you have some anti-virus and anti-malware software installed. A couple of choices I recommend are AVG Anti-Virus (I’ve used the free version for years both at home and at work and not once had an infection) and Avast! Anti-virus. Both are free, and you can install them on both Mac and PC. Go ahead and perform a scan of your entire system, and make any recommended changes.
While you’re at it, go ahead and turn on the firewall. This protects rogue applications from gaining access to your device and prevents them from taking control of its resources. It’s a virtual wall that, just like a brick wall, prevents physical items from passing through it - unwanted digital items.
In Windows, this is relatively easy. Click on the Windows or Start button, and search for ‘Firewall.’ If you have a more recent version of Windows, you’ll need to click on the left, where it says ‘Turn Windows Firewall On or Off.’ Click the radio button to turn Windows Firewall on, and press ‘OK.’ Do this for both Private and Public networks. You’re now protected.
For Mac users, it’s even easier. Go to System Preferences, Security & Privacy, and choose Firewall. If it says ‘Firewall: On,’ you’re good to go. If you want to make changes, click ‘Firewall Options…’ In this menu, I recommend checking the checkboxes for ‘Automatically allow signed software to receive incoming connections’ and ‘Enable stealth mode.’ This will make it easier for applications you trust (iTunes and Dropbox, for example) to work the way they’re intended. By enabling stealth mode, you can surf the Internet undetected for the most part. Meanwhile, your system ignores any incoming pings for response. This can get pretty complicated, so just know that stealth mode is the way to go.
Now let’s go a little farther out into the water.
If you use a router in your home, you’ll want to make sure it’s protected with a password. A router is a device that takes the signal from your ISP (Internet Service Provider) and “routes” it to different channels. Whether it’s a wired or a wireless router, you’ll want to make sure and protect it from intrusion.
Look up your router’s default IP address online. For example, I use a Belkin router at home, so my router’s default IP is 192.168.2.1. That’s our own little private network, and I don’t have any concerns about posting it online for the world to see because of the security settings I have in place. There are apps available if you need help here.
To access your router’s settings, open your favorite Internet browser, type the IP address in to the address bar, and press Enter. If you haven’t setup a password yet, now’s your chance. Make sure you choose a good, long password. The longer the better, but you should aim for at least sixteen characters. This will make it more challenging for a hacker to gain access to your home network, and prevent unwanted users from accessing your bandwidth, slowing down your surfing. Use a combination of lowercase and uppercase letters, spaces, punctuation, and numbers to make it especially challenging. You can use an app that's designed specifically for creating secure passwords, like Device Monitr. To test out your password’s strength, navigate over to a site like howsecureismypassword.net to test out your chosen password. You’ll get instant feedback on the security, and recommendations to make it more secure, absolutely free. I use this to gauge all my passwords, and have never had a break-in. (Knock on wood)
Another setting to change in your router’s control panel is the option to change your network’s name. By default this will show up as something like ‘belkin’ or ‘default’. This is obviously an insecure network, so you should change it to something like ‘YouCantHazInternet.’ Now you not only have avoided simple detection, but with your secure password you have nearly completely secured your network.
Now that you’ve secured your network, it’s time to add a guest account. This is another password visitors can use to access your network, and it doesn’t allow any access to the router or other network settings. The guest password should still be something secure to prevent your neighbors from using all your bandwidth. Setting up a guest password is the simplest way you can speed up your network.
Your network is pretty well protected, but there’s one more setting you need to change.
By default, your router will broadcast your SSID. For maximum security, change this to ‘Do not broadcast my SSID.’ The SSID is the name of the network, as in ‘YouCantHazInternet.’ By disabling the broadcast of your network you are able to prevent it from being seen by all devices. In order to connect to your network, you’ll have to know both the name and the password. Kind of like Fort Knox.
That's how you can protect your home network and the devices on it- whether an iPad or another device, you're in good shape now. I don’t have all the answers, though. Let me know in the comments what other steps you have taken to secure your personal network from intrusion.
Thanks for reading!
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