Circles of Trust - Internet Routers

In my last post of this series, "Who Do You Trust?", I wrote about the importance of strong passwords as one of the first steps in protecting yourself on the Internet. In this post I will tell you about the second most important step to protecting your self on the Internet. If you use a wireless connection, or if you have more than one computer, you will need a router. Properly configuring your router is a crucial step in using the Internet safely and securely.

Your Internet router allows you to connect the private network in your house or office to the public Internet. Because it is the “doorway” that allows data in and out of your network, just like a real door, you need to make sure it is equipped with a good lock. And, just like the lock on your home’s front door, you want to ensure that only you and those you trust have a key.

If you only have one computer, and it doesn’t use a wireless network connection, then you don’t need router to connect to the Internet, at least, not a router in your home. Your Internet service provider uses a router to connect its network to the Internet. Your computer would simply connect to your ISP’s network. In that case, your doorway should be locked with a firewall.  My next post will cover firewalls and how to use them.

If you use a router to connect to the Internet, you should use a firewall too but, your first line of defense is the router. If you are a home user, your ISP usually only gives you one Internet (or IP) address to use. Even large companies do not have an Internet address for every computer they use.

Because there are not enough Internet addresses to give every computer its own, routers provide a service for private networks, called Network Address Translation (NAT). There are certain groups of IP addresses that are reserved for private networks.  Those addresses cannot directly access, or be accessed from, the Internet. Instead, computers on private networks use routers to “translate” their addresses to public Internet addresses for outbound communications, and to translate public addresses back to their private addresses for inbound communications.  Private networks using NAT can have many computers communicate with the Internet by sharing only one or a few public Internet addresses.

A router providing NAT services actually prevents computers outside of their private networks, from initiating communications with those on their private networks. In fact, the private addresses are effectively hidden from the Internet. Internet computers can only reply to requests for communication from the computers on the private networks. This provides protection from the Internet for those computers “behind” the router. Of course, it’s a little more complicated than this, and exceptions and conditions can be programmed into all routers. However, for most home computer users, routers providing NAT are helping to protect you from communications that you don’t initiate.




Routers are helping but, they are not enough protection by themselves! I will write about the additional steps required to keep you safe, in upcoming posts; Firewalls and Anti-virus/anti-spyware software. Routers also need to be carefully configured so they can protect you as much as possible. We need to think of Internet security in terms of layers. It takes many different layers working together to give us adequate protection.

Remember, we said that computers on the Internet cannot initiate communications with computers using private addresses on your private network. However, your router has one public address that computers on the Internet can communicate with, if you do not take steps to configure your router properly!

Those steps are:

1. Change your routers default administrator user's password!

2. Use a strong admin user password!

3. Disable remote administration!

4. Enable WPA or WPA2 encryption! WEP has well known vulnerabilities! Without encryption, computers can bypass your router all together and communicatedirectly to computers on your private network!

5. Use a strong encryption pass phrase!

A properly configured router, along with strong passwords, firewalls and anti-virus/anti-spyware software will provide you with good protection as you use the Internet.  Of course, you always need to keep your software updated with the latest security updates! I will be writing about all of these layers of security in the upcoming posts of the series, "Circles of Trust?” As always, please comment and give feedback on posts, so I can continue to improve them.





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For more on Internet Security:

From The USA Educational Foundation: Internet Safety For Adults


From Family Online Safety Institute:
Top Internet Safety Tips for Parents (PDF)


From US-CERT:
Advice about common security issues for
non-technical computer users

     

Circles of Trust - Using Passwords

Passwords are critical to your online security. Using strong passwords is not an inconvenience. It's something you have to do.

Not only are your email and online accounts protected by passwords but, computer, router and other equipment configurations are protected by passwords too. 

Websites and equipment have differing requirements for passwords, but most require a minimum password length, and try to encourage you to make your passwords
stronger by using a combination of letters, numbers and even special characters.

Circles of Trust? Steps to Better Safety in the Internet Neighborhood

In my last post “Who Do You Trust?”, I tried to express how important it is to be vigilant about securing our computers against the dangers of connecting to, and using, the Internet.  I listed, in broad strokes and generalities, the basic precautions everyone should take and, I promised that I would write in greater detail about the practices and products that can help us to take those precautions.

I hope I did a decent job of not sounding too technical in my last post. I tried to write in a way that would help people better understand a complicated topic. I know this subject can be presented in such a way that most anyone can understand it, and put their understanding to practical use. That is my goal for all of the articles in this blog.

I want to convey the importance of this topic in such a way that people will want to learn more, but I know that many people won’t want to invest the time it may take.  My challenge is to boil down complexity to information that is easy to understand and can be put to use one step at a time. Taking any step in the right direction now, is better than waiting until we know all the different routes that are possible during the journey!

So I have decided to address this most important topic in a series of articles. If I am successful, each article will stand on its own, and will contain information that you can put to use right away, without necessarily having to read or understand the information in the later posts of the series. I will try to complete the series before I post on other subjects, so the articles can more easily be used together as a part of your overall and ongoing strategy for Internet safety.

“Who Do You Trust?” can now serve as the introduction to the series:  “Circles of Trust”. My next posts in this series will be about passwords, routers and firewalls. I would love to have your comments and feedback as I go, so please let me know what you think!


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For more on Internet Security:

From The USA Educational Foundation: Internet Safety For Adults


From Family Online Safety Institute:
Top Internet Safety Tips for Parents (PDF)


From US-CERT:
Advice about common security issues for non-technical computer users

     

Circles of Trust - Who Do You Trust?

Originally titled "Who Do You Trust?", this is the first post of the series - "Circles of Trust."  Written for the non-technical, everyday computer user, "Circles of Trust" is practical advice about keeping your identity and information safe while online.


Who Do You Trust?

Before you begin reflecting inwardly and become upset about your psychological well being, I need to tell you this article is about Internet security and what you should do to protect yourself and your information.  A good way to start our thought process is to ask, "Who is connected to the Internet that we trust?"  I propose that we start by trusting no one, and add people and businesses that we do trust, one at a time, and then only within limits.


Imagine living in a neighborhood where the crime rate is below average, most of your neighbors are nice, they mow their lawn regularly and otherwise keep their homes looking nice.  Occasionally, hoodlums from that nearby, not so nice, neighborhood drive through and vandalize property or even break into a car.  Now imagine that every not so nice neighborhood on the planet is not only nearby, but is really just as close to your house, as the neighbors in your own neighborhood are. If this were really true, a hoodlum from the other side of the world could leave his house and be driving by your driveway within minutes!  If your curtains were open, they could see right into your living room and begin plotting their next move!

Welcome to the Internet!  Every computer in the world, no matter where, that is connected to the Internet can be lurking outside your computer home, trying to see through your computer curtains, within seconds of deciding to try.

In parts of some cities, crime is so rampant that many people cover all of their first floor windows with bars, and install multiple dead bolt locks on all their doors!  They trust no one!  If you knock on their door, they will peep at you through their peep hole, maybe get their gun, ask you through the door to identify yourself, and only when they are satisfied that you are likely not a danger to them, will they crack the door to speak with you.

Common sense would also dictate that we are vigilant in protecting our computer homes!  Just like our real homes, our computer homes shelter many valuables: our identities and reputations, keys to the places we keep our money, our pictures, mementos and other keepsakes. We need to be very careful who we crack the door open for.

So let’s begin by securing our computer homes. In this neighborhood, we will need locks and bars on our doors and windows:  passwords and firewalls. We will also need pest and varmint control:  anti-virus software.  We will need to keep our curtains closed, and watch our backdoor: anti-spyware and anti-malware software. We will need a peep hole in our front door, and we will need to ask those who would want us to trust them, to identify themselves:  encryption and security certificates. And finally, most of all we will need a healthy respect for the dangers of associating with complete strangers:  Learn about phishing scams and con artists!

Just as in real life, on the Internet, no one can ever be completely safe from all danger. But we can’t live our lives if we are always afraid to walk out our door and go to work, or go shopping, or to see friends. We can learn to drive safely, be cautious around strangers, and we can enjoy living despite the risks we have to take every day.

In my next post, I will talk specifically about the practices and products that can help us live our Internet lives safely so we can enjoy all of the benefits that technology can bring to our real lives.


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Be Wehwy Wehwy Kehwful, but Open to Free Stuff

OK, I was channeling Elmer Fudd  when I wrote the title for this post. Sorry! There are lots of good and free software available. But you need to be wehwy careful and do your homework before you download and install any.  Find a reputable source (like me) that recommends the software and a safe way to obtain it.

Here is some of the free stuff I use, along with links to safe web sites where you can download it. I use other free software too, but this is quality stuff and  will save you a considerable amount of money.

Free Anti-virus and Anti-spyware Software:

Microsoft Security Essentials

Microsoft Security Essentials is a great product for home users and small businesses. It is available for small businesses with up to 10 PCs and, it is free!  It is easy to use. It reliably updates automatically. It scans for viruses and spyware in memory and on all your drives by schedule or on demand. And, it has all of the features you would expect from any industry leading Anti-virus software.

You can safely and legally download Microsoft Security Essentials at:
windows.microsoft.com/en/windows/products/security-essentials

Free Office Productivity Software:

Apache OpenOffice

You would need to have money to burn, if you paid full price for Microsoft Office, before you try Apache’s OpenOffice!  It includes a word processor, spreadsheet, database, presentation application, graphics application and an equation editor!  And, it is compatible with Microsoft Office!  Yes, you read it correctly! Microsoft Office and OpenOffice can easily use each other's files! OpenOffice and Microsoft Office both use the OASIS - Open Document Format, an industry “open-standard”. OpenOffice is awesome! And, it is FREE!

You can safely and legally download Apache OpenOffice at:
 www.openoffice.org

Not Free, but Really Cheap Office Productivity software

Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2010


No, I am not crazy, rich or out of touch with the common man!  Read on and I will explain. Microsoft Office 2010 is a great suite of office productivity apps. If you count all its versions, I am reasonably sure that Microsoft Office is the
most used office productivity software on the planet. But, Microsoft Office is expensive!

However, employees of companies and organizations that have a volume licensing agreement  with Microsoft, for Microsoft Office are eligible for the:

Microsoft Home Use Program 

Through the Microsoft Home Use Program (HUP) you can license, download and use Office 2010 Professional for $9.95!  That’s right!  $9.95!  It is a shame that so many people have paid full price for Microsoft Office to use at home, when they may have been eligible for the Home Use Program. There is one little catch in this otherwise amazing value;  when you are no longer employed by the company that approved your home use license, you cannot legally continue to use Office Pro unless you purchase a license. 

A company has to do very little work to offer the HUP to their employees. They have to sign up for the program and approve each employee purchase. After approved, the employee actually purchases their Home Use license directly from Microsoft, then simply downloads the software!   But many companies haven't heard about HUP!  If you think your company is a volume licensing customer of Microsoft, and you need Microsoft Office for your home computer, then you should tell your management and/or IT department that you would like to participate in the Microsoft Home Use Program. It doesn’t cost them anything but a little time. Check your company's eligibility...  www.microsofthup.com/hupus/home.aspx

In keeping with the "practical" spirit of my blog, I will be writing more on this topic soon! So visit again, to read more about quality software that is safe and inexpensive, or absolutely free! 




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What Computer Should I Buy?

I get a lot of questions from coworkers and family about what type of computer to buy. Or they will email an ad or ask me about a particular model that they have been looking at. My philosophy on purchasing a computer has changed many times over the years. It has been influenced by the available technology at the time, if I was currently selling computers or not, whether I was on a budget and pinching pennies or, if my employer was paying for my computer. It's hard to be objective!

One of my favorite questions was always; should I buy a Mac or a PC? Since I am a computer scientist, I should use the consensus of industry expert opinion based upon the preponderance of evidence that exists from the many double blind studies at major research universities, and quote the empirical data. But since I don't have any idea what that is, I usually just tell them, "I don't know!" Then, I try to help them find the answer for themselves, by asking them some standard questions:

·         Do you know anyone who uses a Mac?
·         If you do, do you think they are willing to help you when you have an issue?
·         Will your friends make fun of you if you don't buy a Mac?
·         Will they make fun of you if you do buy a Mac?
·         Do you think that owning a Mac will boost your self esteem?
·         Does your self esteem need a boost?
·         Would you feel bad knowing you paid twice as much for similar capability?
·         You got the money honey?
·         How do you plan on getting the word out that you are now a Mac user?
·         Bumper sticker?
·         Facebook?

Then I always tell them, "I would really like to have a Mac!" When they ask, "Why?”, I tell them, “Because I don't have one, and they're really cool!" By this time, they can tell that I really don't care. Everyone that ever asked me if they should buy a Mac bought one regardless of what I told them. For most things you need a computer for, it probably doesn't matter one way or the other. I would really like to have one! I have a good friend who updates software and data on fifty or so Macs every day for a lab at a big university. The university paid for his MacBook Pro. It's really, really cool!

Ok. Here is the part of the post that contains the practical advice. If you don't keep six files open in Photoshop while you use Dreamweaver to push PHP files to a testing server that is IIS 7.0 on the same PC, it is running SQL Server, and you are not, at the same time, designing your new backyard patio and landscaping with AutoCAD while your are using Excel to work on your budget with pivot tables and Vlookup, then buy a cheaper computer with a screen that you can see!
Today’s entry level computers are probably more capable than most people need. If you’re worried about more hard drive for pictures and music, just buy a Western Digital Passport USB Drive, they are really cool, and you can get a terabyte for about a hundred bucks. And, you can use it on your next computer!

I use my son's old Toshiba Satellite laptop to write this kind of stuff while I'm sitting on the couch watching TV. I gave him my new HP Pavillion, because he said his Toshiba was broken. I fixed it. I can word process and Google stuff as I go, so it will seem like I always know what I'm talking about. I can surf the web, and use it to do most everything I need a laptop to do, and it is at least four years old. I use a Pentium dual core tower in my office when I am wearing my super user cape. It has a big screen, a big hard drive, 4GB of RAM, and it does everything I need  a desktop to do.

I bought my wife a Compaq Presario at Wal-Mart for $300 about four years ago. It runs Vista (yeah I know... but she doesn't), burns CD's and DVD's, has a big hard drive, and a beautiful 15.6" screen. It's great to use for watching movies on our 50" plasma TV. We hook it up with a $20 VGA/audio cable and use a wireless mouse for a remote. Her "R" and down arrow keys quit working last year, so I ordered a replacement keyboard from Amazon for $13 and fixed it in about 10 minutes. She still loves it!

Oh yeah. If you’re a gamer, you should get the biggest, baddest, fastest computer your Mom and Dad will pop for!




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My First Post

This is the very first post on my “to be named later blog.” Or, at least, it is the beginning of trying to determine what this blog should be about. I have a few reasons to start a blog, but I am hoping that the actual process will help this one find its center. I can always start another blog and another, right? 

One good reason to blog is to hone your writing skills. Another is to help you establish some credibility in your field, and perhaps drive a little more traffic to your web site. The additional external links can’t hurt your site’s search engine ranking. And if your site is business related, “monetized” with ads, or you sell services and products, the root of all your reasoning is money! Money is a very good reason!

So here I go! I hope that my blog will be interesting enough to get a few followers. I may even get some interest from others to post their articles as guests. My goals are modest, my reasons many, and my expectations are low. I once told my father, after a session of wallowing in self pity, that I needed to embrace failure instead of always fearing it to the point of paralysis. If I keep failing, but keep trying, surely I will eventually have a success or two. So, in that spirit, I am ready to begin failing at blogging!

I have already taken my first step toward that goal; I am telling my readers that I may suck at this. But if I do, at least, I will always have room for improvement!

I should probably focus on a subject that compliments my business and more directly supports my need to earn a living. I think I will begin by writing about putting technology to use for practical purposes or, about being practical about the use of technology. But, that may give me too much of an excuse to write about esoteric and impractical technology, since practicality is in the eyes of the practitioner. What is one man’s practical is another’s useless. I got it! I will write about technology for the cheap pragmatist!  That should narrow it down to stuff you really need to get that task at hand accomplished, and how you can buy it on the skinny!

See, I am improving already!  Visit “to be named later blog” again, and I promise my next post will actually be interesting and useful to those of us cheap skates who need to make our lives easier. And besides, you just have to find out what I finally name my blog!  What a cliff hanger!  I may actually be getting mo’ better, mo’ faster than I thought!





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