Most individuals don't think they need to hire an IT consultant like Acarté to manage their home network so they go it alone. They often overlook critical steps that should be taken to protect their home computers and data, sometimes ending in a tragic loss of precious data. Although we do not typically work with home users we have assembled a quick list of some recommended steps you can take to cost effectively help protect your home network.
You need multiple forms of protection!
Just running an anti-virus program is not enough to protect your network. You need multiple layers of protection such as:
- Anti-virus - your computer may have come with a trial version of a popular anti-virus program. You need to either pay to keep it updated or at least use one of the free AV programs such as Microsoft Security Essentials. Make sure you completely remove any trial as running multiple AV programs at the same time can bring your system to a crawl.
- Malware scanner - No AV program, paid or free, will pick up everything. We recommend a periodic full scan using free programs such as Malwarebytes or SUPERAntiSpyware. If you like those programs then we recommend buying a license to help support the continued development of the application.
- Administrator rights - by default, when you get a new computer it likely comes with a user account that has full administrator privileges. With admin rights, you are more likely to get infected by spyware as it can possibly be installed without your knowledge. We recommend you create an account such as "admin" that has a secure password and full admin rights. Do this in Control Panel, User Accounts. Then set other users to be standard users and each time you need admin rights a box will pop up asking for the admin password. Don't tell your kids the password!
- Windows updates - perhaps the most important thing to do is to make sure your computers have the most recent security updates. Windows can take care of much of this for your automatically but many other applications need to be updated too. Consider using a service like Ninite to install and update common Windows applications. Reboot when asked to so the updates are installed completely.
- Firewall - you should use a home firewall and not just the device provided to you by your Internet service provider (ISP). You can get a decent firewall at any electronics store and may want to consider wireless. Basic installation is pretty easy if you follow the instructions. You MUST utilize a secure password for your wireless connection and you should also change the default password on the device and keep it updated with the latest firmware. Don't risk leaving your connection open to someone sitting in their car outside your house. It happens!
- OpenDNS - we really like a service like OpenDNS which is pretty easy to implement. This service offers parental control and filtering to help protect you from bad websites.
- Spam and virus protection for your e-mail is critical. A large share of virus and spyware comes via e-mail. THINK BEFORE YOU CLICK! If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
- While not as important as the other items above, we recommend you keep your computer up to date with the latest BIOS and drivers provided by your manufacturer.
Data backups are a must!
Data backups are a critical part of the protection of your computer network. If your computer dies it may not be too big of a deal to get a new computer and install the programs you need. But what if the unique data that you created dies with the computer? What if a virus corrupts or encrypts your data? Your crucial Quicken data is gone. All those Word documents and Excel spreadsheets, gone too. Your vast library of family photos. Your e-mail. It goes on and on. If you don't have those items properly protected they could disappear along with your old computer.
- Online backup services are pretty good at backing up your data in the cloud. Is it worth $100 a year to assure you have an offsite copy of your data in case of fire, flood, theft or computer crash? Sure it is, but if you have a lot of data it could take a long time to restore everything over the Internet. Also, beware of viruses that can destroy or make your data inaccessible, even that data which you think is safely backed up in the cloud can be impacted.
- External hard drives are convenient and pretty easy to set up, but they don't protect you from most of the threats above. Drives crash, are easily stolen or destroyed. If this is your only form of backup it is better than nothing but we recommend you do more. We've seen way too many portable hard drives fail recently.
- Dropbox is a convenient service that can sync your data to the cloud. While not really meant for backups a free account can be used to sync some of your data to other computers. We don't recommend it as a backup method but we do find it handy to share files and make data accessible from multiple locations. Click on the Dropbox link for a free account!
- Battery backups with surge protection are critical in many areas of the country. Protect your computer and data from power surges and interruptions. Don't be cheap and plug your PC directly into the wall. We see enough dead computers already and don't want to see yours!
- Again, multiple forms of backup are recommended. Recent malware and ransomware such as CryptoLocker can even get to some forms of backup holding your data for a ransom. Check out the Wikipedia article and you will realize you don't want to deal with it. Neither do we if you don't have a good solid backup strategy.
Acarté services for home
Acarté DataGuard is our business-class backup service that can also be used at home. DataGuard offers many features you can't get in most home backup systems. Contact us if you are interested in hearing more.
We also offer a home version of our managed IT services program that provides anti-virus protection along with automated security updates for most popular applications. An annual subscription costs as low as $5/month, not much more than many popular commercial AV programs. If you use programs like Adobe Reader, Java, Flash, Quicktime, Google Earth, Skype or WinZip then you must keep them updated. Not doing so opens you up to security holes that are exploited by the bad guys. Our service covers those and more!
Other utilities can help too!
There are many great free and inexpensive applications that can help you in other ways. Some of our favorites are:
- LastPass - this is a great program to help you remember your passwords. We recommend you use a very secure password (or passphrase) for LastPass and then use unique passwords for each site you visit. We've used this tool for years and it works great.
- CCleaner - this is a handy program for periodic cleanup of your computer. Make sure you understand what you are doing with a program like this as you can cause more problems than you'll fix if used incorrectly!
We've got many more recommendations, tips, and tricks that you can get by signing up for our newsletter in the box to the right of this page. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn with the links below.
We hope this helps you as a starting point to keep your home computer network protected from the bad guys!