Our first Q & A of the week comes from Morbiusstrip via the reader feedback
page. Remember to try our friendly forums
for help too.
Q: I've just assembled the
first home computer that I can truly call all mine, rather than belonging to the
family or my parents. I'm going to use Windows XP Home as the OS, though I
might experiment with installing SUSE 9.1 Linux based on your article. I'm concerned about my data security
though. My family has DSL Internet and uses a router, and our main
computer always seems to have problems and slowdowns for one reason or another. It was viruses
at first, then I formatted it and installed Norton. Now it's just wayyy too slow.
I don't want my brand new
computer to have the same problems. My question is, can being on
the same home network as my parents' computer expose me to whatever nasty software may be living on their computer?
I'm going to use antivirus, etc. but I'm not going to take care of their system
anymore, so who knows how badly my sister will mess it up... What
do I have to do to protect myself properly?
A: Being on the same network as a system infected with
viruses or spyware practically assures that your new system will be compromised
too, unless you take the proper precautions before you hook yourself up
to your home network. For maximum security, you should set your system up
with a recently updated antivirus program, an anti-spyware/malware utility like
Ad-Aware or Microsoft anti-spyware and a software (personal) firewall like
the one included with Windows XP. In addition to this, make sure that you
use a password for all user accounts on your computer. This will not only
help secure your system, but will also help to protect your *ahem* personal
files from your family.
The trick is to update your system without compromising
it at the same time. There are two possible ways to go about this.
First of all, make sure the Windows XP firewall is active before you
connect to the network. If you already have Service Pack 2, it will be
on by default. If not, go to 'start/my network places/network
connections' and right-click on your network connection. Choose
'properties', then 'advanced' and enable the Windows XP firewall.
Now you can turn off your family's computer for a
couple of hours while you connect to the Internet and update your virus checker,
anti-spyware software and Windows (in that order). As an alternative, many
DSL service providers actually allow more than one IP address for a given
connection, so you could possibly get a RJ-45 cable splitter and run your own
network cable directly to the DSL modem, bypassing your home network
altogether. You'll need to set up your DSL connection on your system to do
this, but that's easy enough. You just need to create a new network
connection, choose the appropriate options and enter the password and username
from your ISP.
For more information, see our 10
essential steps to protecting your PC guide.