Computer Network Security

Excellent computer network security is critical in keeping your personal information and data safe.

Your computer is always connected to a network:

  • Your work network
  • A public network (when you are at your favorite café)
  • Your home network

 Without a network, using a computer would be very boring.

The network you are ultimately connected to is the Internet - a global network of computers, smart phones, tablets, watches, and soon everything else.

There is about 3.7 billion people on the Internet today. Some people have more than one device - for example a laptop and a smart phone.

According to projections, there will be anywhere from 50 - 75 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2020. Think microwaves, fridges, lights, thermostats, shades, drones, cars, tires, roads, parking meters, everything.

This is called the Internet of Things.

All these things can reach your computer. They can say "hello" or they can attack. Many of them are already broken into and under control of cyber criminals.

Protecting the network is a critical component of protecting your computer, and ultimately your personal information and data.

If a computer or tablet on your network has been broken into, it is a lot easier to break into all your other computers from there. Once a cyber criminal has access to your network, defending the rest of your computing devices becomes much more difficult.

This is how many cyber thieves operate. They break into a computer that is the weakest link on your network. Then they use it as a stepping-stone to launch attacks on and break into everything else, including your most valuable computer where you store your personal data.

A cyber intruder inside your network usually means game over.

If you are wondering why anyone would attack your computer (you have nothing to hide, you have no valuable information), keep in mind that these attacks are automated. Cyber thieves do not care whose personal information they get.

They can sell it on the black market all the same.

Let us look at different types of networks and how computer network security applies to them.

Your Work Network

Your work network is relatively secure. It is probably managed by a team of IT professionals. If you are working in a heavily regulated industry (financial services, healthcare, utilities, petrochemical), your work network is very secure. Less so if you are at a start-up.

Cyber thieves that break into corporate networks are usually after company data, not your computer. However, they may use you and your computer to break into the corporate network.

There are many ways to break into a computer. Especially dangerous and difficult to defend against are email phishing attacks. For example, a cyber criminal could send you an email that looks like it came from your colleague or boss.

In email attacks, the most dangerous part is attachments. If you click on an attachment that was sent to you in an email by a cyber thief pretending to be someone else, your computer will be broken into and fall under the criminal’s control.

She will then use your computer to break into other computers inside your work network.

For this reason is it best not to mix personal and work emails. If you use your work email only for work, and receive an email that looks like it came from a friend, you will be suspicious, because you know your friends would never email you to your work email address.

In addition, you will avoid answering uncomfortable questions if your work network gets broken into and a professional security company comes to do an audit.

While your work network is relatively secure, you should still practice good computer network security by paying attention and staying alert. If you notice anything suspicious, contact your organization’s IT security team.

Public Network

Public networks are those that anyone can connect to without a username and password.

Public networks are open and sometimes called guest networks. Examples include Wi-Fi networks at cafés, parks, hotels, and conferences.

Public Wi-Fi networks are extremely risky. They are usually not secured at all, and lack basic computer network security features like encryption.

Encrypted communications means that the connection between your computer and the Wi-Fi device that your computer connects to is scrambled and cannot be read by anyone. Encrypted communications prevent other people from snooping on your computer's connection (if someone could snoop, they would be able to intercept your usernames and passwords that your computer sends to web sites when you log into them).

This is why public networks are easy for cyber criminals to impersonate.

There are Wi-Fi devices available for purchase that cyber thieves can configure with the same information as the public network. They will look the same as the legitimate network offered by the venue you are visiting.

When your computer tries to connect to a legitimate Wi-Fi network, it may in fact connect to the cyber intruder’s network instead.

You should avoid public networks at all cost. If you do not need to do something extremely important right that second, wait until you get to a more secure network - at home, at work, at your friend, family member or a colleague.

If you absolutely must use the public network, after you connect to it, use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) software to securely connect to your work network, or your third-party personal VPN provider. This will ensure that your computer communications are secure (VPNs are encrypted).

This still leaves you open to the initial connection hack - it is very hard to guarantee that your computer connected to the real café Wi-Fi network, and not the cyber criminal’s network.

A better way is to connect your laptop to your smart phone. This is known as tethering. Not every smart phone supports it. Find out if you have this feature available and enabled, and then use it.

Keep in mind that using your computer through your smart phone will use your phone’s monthly wireless cellular data plan. If you just need to check email, you will be fine, checking and writing email does not use a lot of data. Watching YouTube videos, on the other hand, uses a considerable amount.

Cellular networks (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint) are more secure than open public Wi-Fi networks.

If your type of work requires frequent use of public Wi-Fi networks because you travel a lot, invest in a dedicated cellular data plan from your favorite cellular provider. They even have special Wi-Fi devices available for purchase that work like cell phones and connect directly to cellular networks. This way you do not have to use your smart phone.

Avoid connecting to open public Wi-Fi networks at all cost.

Your Home Network

You control your home network and should secure it as much as you can.

Securing your home network is important. Wi-Fi signals often broadcast not only throughout but also outside of your house. This means that anyone from the street can reach your home network.

If you live in an apartment building, your network gets broadcasted to many of your neighboring units. Just like you see many Wi-Fi networks listed on your computer and smart phone, many units around you, including floors above and below your apartment, see your network listed.

This is why it is so important to secure your home network. You should encrypt it with the best encryption available on your current Wi-Fi Access Point or Router. If it is more than five years old, you should buy a new one. Older Wi-Fi encryption methods used by older equipment are relatively easy to break into.

For best computer network security, you should have three different Wi-Fi home networks:

Your home network that you and your family use to connect to both your home devices and the Internet. You use this network to share with each other, print, play games, and stream music and videos from your home entertainment system.

Your business or work network that you and your family use when you need to connect to your network at work. This network should not have access to your home network. It is only used when you need to access your work network via the Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection. Connect, do your work, then disconnect.

A guest network that is used by people who visit your house. This network has no access to your home network or your work network. It only has access to the Internet, and it is monitored by you. Your children's friends can safely come over and connect to your guest network, and you do not have to worry about them being mischievous. In case their computers are broken into, the cyber thieves will not be able to break into your home network. If you inform them that you are monitoring their connections, they will behave even better, and may even put their digital toys down and go outside to play.

You may not be ready for configuring three home networks. Start with these computer network security basics:

  • Make sure you have a fairly recent Wi-Fi access point or router
  • Enable the highest level Wi-Fi encryption available on your Wi-Fi device
  • Block all incoming ports on both your Wi-Fi device and your computer(s)
  • Keep all your computers and devices up-to-date with security updates
  • Run anti-virus and anti-malware software

Your first goal is to reach the level of computer network security that is good enough to make the cyber intruder give up and focus on someone else's network instead.

Computer Network Security Summary

Here are the basic computer network security guidelines:

Your computer is almost always connected to the network.

All computers on the Internet are automatically scanned and attacked by thieves.

Protecting your network is as important as protecting your computer.

Your work network is relatively secure. Still, stay alert.

Avoid using public Wi-Fi networks at all cost.

Secure your home network as much as you can.

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