Computer Security

Securing Data on the Small Network

The single most critical thing that people lose from their home computer is data that is created locally. This includes  word processing documents, spreadsheets, tax documents, digital art, home moves, and digital photographs. Digital photos and tax documents are probably the biggest concern to home users. Most home computers are only a hard drive crash away from losing all of this data permanently.

We will explore a few things for you to do to secure your home computing environment. We will not just look at your PC or laptop, as most people today have a multitude of devices in their environment. From Computers, to smart phones, tablets all the way to to wireless internet connections.  We will try to touch on it all and give your ideas on what to look at, and what to look for. Technology is changing every day, and you need to keep up with security every time you make a change to your environment. There are standards that most companies follow for their networks. And your data should be just as important to you as their data is to them. So lets look at some of the top things you can do to secure your data at home.

So lets go over a few things on how to secure and simplify your life be creating a few good habits to help you secure that small network. Todays small network can be a small office, or more likely your home. You might not realize it, but most home networks are real close to small business networks of yesterday. Not only do we have computers at home, we have tablets, phones, and as more stuff gets added to the cloud we have more diverse products like our telephone, video system and even our TV’s. Having all these things on the same networks make our small network even more secure. If a hacker discovers a way to hack into your television it is possible that they could gain access to your personal computer and sensitive data. Those tax returns from last year. Yea the ones with everyones social security data on them. They now belong to your local friendly neighborhood hacker. You have a wireless network you say? Is it secure? You dont know? That same data now is available to the neighbors! So lets take a little bit of time to go over two things. Lets go over a check list that you can use to help secure your small network. Then I will cover something that most home users do not have in place. Securing your data with backups. 99% of people I talk to have not backups on their home networks. I have had co-workers spend upwards of $700.00 to get a hard drive recovered that contained the complete family photo album from a failed hard drive. He was satisfied paying this as he had no other options. But a simple backup put in place could have prevented this. With 2 TB external drives running around 100.00 why risk it.

The next thing you need to do is identify all data that you do not need to backup. This could be applications, movies and or music you downloaded if you have the option to download it again. This is not home created content, but it might be stuff that you want to backup. If you have a large enough backup then it does not hurt to back it up. I like to set up two separate backups. One that backs up the real important stuff on a regular basis. Then I set up another back backs up everything but this does not run as often as the first. Maybe once a week instead of every day.

This is the hardest part if you are not already in the habit of doing it. Organize your data in one place on your computer. Apple has a “Documents” folder, Microsoft has a “My Documents” folder. They also have folders for other file types like Photos, Music, Video’s, etc. Its important to keep all your data in one place on your computer. Apple is really good at this, almost 100% if important data is stored under the user. Microsoft not so much, but most newer programs do the same there. Just make sure that all your data is stored! This might take a little tweaking to get all your programs to store files in a user area, or if you have a shared area that multiple users have access to then you will need to take that into account when you set up your backups.

First thing we are going to look at is your network. Most people will have a router of some kind most of the time this is provided by your internet service provide. It provides both wired and wireless networking services. Details on how to do these steps is outside the scope of this document. Each router is different so you will need the manual and some time to check these items.

First lets make sure that your router is up to date with the latest firmware version.
Is your computer wired or wireless. If you have a desktop and it is physically possible use the network cable instead of wireless if that is an option. In almost all cases the wired network will be faster, more reliable, and more secure.
Make sure your wireless connection has the highest level of security enabled, and a good password. It used to be recommended to hid the network name of the router, but that is not as important today with the higher level security used in the newer routers than before.

Now that we have our wireless network secure it is time to look at all the devices connected to it. Upgrade the firmware and software on each item. A vulnerability in any item on the network could exposes all the other devices on the network to a hacker. You know that screen that keeps nagging you on your TV and Wii that is telling you there is a update available. I see you all shaking your heads yes!!! Take the time and select update.

Ok now we have the network and all the devices updated. Lets take a look at what we can do to secure the data on our computer. The first step is to protect or data against simple or accidental losses.

These can be broken down to a few simple things. Hardware failures, Operator mistakes, Data corruption, and possibly Disaster recover, which we will cover a little more later.

We need to keep with the KISS Keep It Simple Stupid method with our backups. If they are manual, or complicated they will not get done. So we are going to leverage the tools built into MS Windows 7/8, and Mac OSX. If you are not on the latest version now would be a good time to upgrade your OS also. Maybe wait until after your first backup is made if you are just a few minor revs behind.

So you will need an external hard drive. To determine the size you need we will take what is in your computer and at least double it. Today I would not buy anything smaller than a 1TB or preferably 2TB drive. We want an external drive for multiple reasons. First even if you have room inside your computer for another hard drive your two hard drives would be sharing the same power supply. If that supply should fail it has the potential to destroy both drives. There went our data and our backup. The external drive has its own power supply and by using it we eliminate this possibility. The other reason we want an external is that if we are having problems with the computer, we could move the external drive to another computer and get at our data in a timely manner. The third option is we can physically locate the external drive so that it is as far away from the computer as we can. Maybe on the upper shelf on the computer desk. Then that class of wine that takes out the laptop will not also take out your external backup drive, or the thief that broke in and decided they needed you new Mac Book more than you might just leave the external drive. Thieves are not that bright anyway, if they were that would have a job just like you and me!

So how do we set up our computer to backup to the external hard drive. That is going to depend on the operating system that you have.

On Apple it is called Time Machine. It is very simple and straightforward to use. In most cases the first time you plug that new USB drive into your Mac, it will ask you if you want to use it for Time Machine Backups. You answer yes, and you are done. The backups will start happening automagically and there is not much else you need to do. Now that first backup, that one can take a very very long time depending on how much data you have on your computer. Backups after that only take a short time as they already have most of your data, so they only have to store stuff that has changed, and in most cases that is a very small amount.

On Windows machines Microsofts has a very similar program. Microsoft has a wonder video here on how to set it up.

Once this is set up both programs have some options on how to adjust what gets backed up, and what to not back up. But if you purchased a large enough drive why not back up everything.

Next time we will look at backing up to a network drive/share for even more security.