Tech Talk With Scott Bly: Routers, Firewalls, And Wireless Network Computer Safety

Computer Security Part 2 of 2

Wednesday, 21 Mar 2012, 1:45:00 AM

Scott Bly

Network security is important for both Windows and Macs.
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Network security is important for both Windows and Macs.

Last time we discussed secure passwords and anti-virus software. While anti-virus is important on Windows, Macs are fairly virus resistant. Password security is important for all computers whether you’re on a PC or an Apple system.

Today’s TechTalk we’re focused on network security, which is important for both Windows & Macs. As we enter the Post-PC era with iPhones, Android tablets, and web-enabled TVs, the importance of proper network setup becomes greater for both home and business.

A typical Santa Monica household today has one or more computers, with a mix of network-enabled devices like printers, web-TV, smart phones, and tablets. The home Internet connection comes in the form of Fiber Optic, Cable, DSL or Wireless, whereas a business may have multiple Internet connections with a greater range of technologies like T1 or Ethernet.

The following link is to a Wikipedia article that goes into lots more detail about the different types on internet connection technologies available today (pay particular attention to the sections on DSL, Cable modem, Fiber to the home which is available here from AT&T's U-Verse and Verizon's FIOS): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_access

The Internet connection needs to end in a device called a router that accomplishes two things.

Firstly, it needs to let you have more than one item connect the Internet at a time. This process creates a network.

Secondly, it needs to protect your local network from all of the nefarious schemes of people who are essentially Internet Pirates trolling the seas looking for unsuspecting suckers to hijack.

This link is an excellent YouTube video of a segment from the History Channel's Modern Marvels TV show about what routers do: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VwKt3YIuiY

Most home routers that are available at a local office supply store or electronics store will accomplish both of these things. There are security and other advanced features that are available with higher end units such as a Stateful Packet Inspection firewall, SPI for short. This is especially important for a business router.

If you’re buying a wireless router for the home, look for the following:

Wireless “N” support – this is the latest speed and security version of Wi-Fi that’s available. 802.11n as it is sometimes referred to offers higher speeds for your internal network as well as better resistance to interference and penetration through walls that can kill the signal. Be sure to change the password for the device and set up the Wireless security using WPA2. Longer complex passwords are better.

If you’re purchasing a router for business, you want one that has the SPI firewall – this proactive firewall separates your network from the Internet and inspects every piece of information that passes through for greater security. These types of routers typically have more security options such as VPN (Virtual Private Network) and Access Controls to restrict Internet access, etc. You’ll spend a little more, but it’s worth it.

If you’re an apple user, then the AirPort Extreme does most of this as well. The nice thing about Apple is that they use the same terminology foremost of their features and it’s very easy to configure.

The following links are to products that I have found to work very nicely for home router solutions:

Apple's AirPort Extreme: http://www.apple.com/airportextreme/

Netgear's N900 Wireless router: http://www.netgear.com/home/products/wirelessrouters/ultimate-performance/WNDR4500.aspx

Small business routers from Cisco Small Business:

Wireless: http://www.cisco.com/en/US/products/ps11025/index.html

Wired (with Two Internet Connections): http://www.cisco.com/en/US/products/ps9925/index.html

Next time I plan to discuss the all-important Back Up. See you then!

Scott Bly is the President of IT Freeway, a Santa Monica-based, small business computer consultancy. He teaches seminars at MacMall in Santa Monica and is the co-chair of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce Technology Committee. His debut young adult techno-thriller novel, SMASHER, is being published by Scholastic/Blue Sky Press in Spring 2013. You can reach him via email at scott@itfreeway.com.

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