If you’ve been following my blog posts these past few weeks, surely by now you can see there is no shortage of threats to our online security, our information and our privacy. This may have you nervous and wondering, “what can I do to protect myself and my family on the Internet?” A great first step is awareness of the threats. Hackers, spam, viruses, ransomware, the list seems endless. Once we know the dangers we’re facing, we need to look at what’s vulnerable on our computers and networks. What do we have that an attacker may want—is it our personal information, is it our computing resources, or maybe something else? This doesn’t need to be a complicated, formal process like a large company might do in a risk management assessment but it’s important think about and be aware of these things.
Knowing what you have that an attacker might want and how to protect it is important, however, there are some basic security measures that you can, and should, take in the very beginning. Things that will protect your network “boundary” from intrusion. You may have already guessed from the title that these things are, antivirus/antimalware, intrusion detection, and a firewall. I won’t go too deep into the technical aspects of each one but let me give a brief description.
Antivirus/antimalware – software that detects and removes viruses, worms, trojans, and more. Some can scan for adware, spyware, and other browser-based threats. Normally installed on a computer, can be included in router firmware but may need to be enabled first. Must be frequently updated to remain relevant against current threats.
Intrusion detection – software or hardware that detects malicious activity and evidence of malicious activity on computers and networks. Large companies will sometimes have specialized hardware-based intrusion detection systems. For home use, this is typically a feature of an antivirus package versus an individual software application or network device that users install. Intrusion detection can also be included as a feature in your router’s firmware.
Firewall – software or hardware that controls network access. Large organizations/networks will have specialized hardware firewalls. The firewalls used in smaller network setups are software applications that evaluate network traffic and decide if it’s okay to pass through or if it should be blocked. Firewalls are common now on desktop computers and are normally a feature in router firmware as well.
Unlike several years ago, this software is normally included either as part of an operating system or added as trial-software on a new computer. If you’re missing any of them, the good news is that you can get all of them in one tidy package. Most major antivirus software vendors, like Norton, McAfee, Kaspersky, etc., offer some sort of Internet security suite. These are very full-featured and offer many other extras like password management, privacy monitoring, VPNs, parental controls, and more. You’ll want to look for multiplatform support as well, so your computers, laptops, and mobile devices can all be protected.
There are free and open source products available that offer all of the same protections—be extremely careful with these. When it comes to security, I don’t really recommend free software. You get what you pay for and part of what you pay for is support which can be very important in a pinch. As always, I’ll leave you with a site to get started comparing Internet security suites, so you find the right one for your network.