In this home network security checklist, we describe various categories of hardware and software that no digital homeowner should be without. We assume at least one PC is present that has Internet access and needs protection. Security specialists recommend that every PC should be outfitted with all the items mentioned in our per-PC checklist, and that a separate hardware firewall be installed between the Internet and your home network (if you have one) or your home PC (if you have only a single PC to protect).
Home Security Checklist for Your PC
Those who want to learn more about the whys and wherefores of PC protection may find some or all of the information and many of the necessary ingredients they seek on the Microsoft Web site. The “Security at Home” page covers this subject matter reasonably well, and provides lots of pointers to best security and safe computing practices that go well beyond what this checklist can cover.
The Security Center in Windows XP and Vista checks for certain key software components on a PC. These serve as a kickoff for our checklist, followed by other useful and important items as well. No PC that connects to the Internet should be without all of these things. Expense is not an excuse: Freeware or Open Source alternatives are available for all items mentioned.
Table 1: Per-PC Checklist Items
|Anti-virus software||Screens incoming email and files for viruses, worms, etc.; scans hard drives for signs of infection||ISS|
|Anti-spyware software||Screens Web pages, active content for spyware, adware, etc.; scans hard drives for signs of infestation||ISS|
|Personal firewall||Monitors and manages incoming network traffic (and often, outgoing traffic as well)||ISS|
|Operating system updates||Makes sure all applicable security updates are applied to a system||None|
|Anti-spam software||Screens incoming email for unwanted or inappropriate content||ISS, Email software|
|Anti-phishing filter||Protects consumers against illicit attempts to steal identity data or steal money||ISS, Web browsers|
|Security scan||Attempts to break into your system, reveal weaknesses, missing updates, information exposures||None|
In Table 1, ISS stands for Internet Security Suite, which is a collection of programs offered by various vendors that provide a workable per-PC security umbrella. Most of the better-known Internet Security Suites such as Norton Internet Security, McAfee Internet Security Suite, Trend Micro Internet Security, Zone Alarm Internet Security Suite, F-Secure Internet Security, and Panda Internet Security cover all the bases for you, at prices that range from $40 to $70 annually (multi-PC discounts are occasionally available, so look for them).
For modern operating systems and most home network security software, applying updates is as simple as enabling automatic updates during or immediately after installation. Windows XP and Vista offer automatic security updates for these operating systems, and all the major security software vendors do likewise. Experts are unanimous in urging PC users to enable these capabilities as an important step in avoiding potential trouble or compromise. A prompt will alert you that automatic updates are available, and all you will have to do is allow the machine to install them. It’s that easy.
Free options are available for anti-virus coverage (most notably GriSoft AVG Free Edition), anti-spyware (most notably, Microsoft Defender, LavaSoft AdAware SE, and Spybot Search&Destroy), and personal firewall software (most notably, the Windows Firewall that’s built into Windows XP and Vista, but also free versions of ZoneAlarm Pro and Sunbelt/Kerio which can monitor outbound transmissions as well as inbound traffic).
Note that anti-phishing is covered in most Web browsers and operating system updates, which like security software updates, work best when automatic updates are applied as they’re available. Finally, you should perform a security scan at least once a month. We strongly recommend that readers use the free security scans available at Gibson Research – click on ShieldsUp! and at Security Space, click on Security Audit, then scroll all the way down the page to the Home PC Users area and pick either of the free scans available). When you fail in any area of either of these security scans, the scanning Web sites are happy to provide explanations, and to describe how to remediate your situation step-by-step. Follow-up to repair any discovered deficiencies is strongly recommended.