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Protecting Your Home Network from Malware

1 of 10 in Series: The Essentials of Home Network Security

Protecting your computers and home network from malware begins before you even connect to the Internet. Malware, short for malicious software, is software or code that is designed to damage files or entire computer systems, steal data, or disrupt networks. Malware consists of viruses, worms, Trojans, spyware, adware, backdoors, rootkits, and bots.

Before you connect a new computer to your home network, you need to ensure that it has antivirus software installed and running, and that your network firewall or the Windows Firewall is on. With today’s high-speed, always-on cable and DSL Internet connections, an unprotected computer connected to the Internet for any amount of time is a sitting duck.

Antivirus software

Antivirus software (now being commonly marketed as antimalware, endpoint protection, and Internet security software) is relatively inexpensive and protects computers and networks from many malware threats. Most antivirus software uses definition files to detect new threats.

In order to be effective, antivirus signatures must be frequently updated. (New viruses are discovered every day.) Best practices for configuring your antivirus software include the following:

  • Enabling real-time scanning of files so they are scanned for viruses when downloaded or opened

  • Enabling real-time protection to constantly monitor commonly infected areas of the computer’s operating system

  • Scheduling daily automatic updates of definition files

  • Scheduling full-system scans on a daily basis (usually late at night when the computer is not in use, since full-system scans significantly slow your computer)

  • Automatically cleaning or quarantining infected files and alerting you when a virus is detected

Popular antivirus software includes the following:

Antispyware software

Antispyware (and antiadware) software detects spyware/adware and cleans it from your computer. It also prevents it from getting infected in the first place when possible. Antispyware software works very similarly to antivirus software by using definition files to identify known spyware.

Many of the same best practices and limitations of antivirus software are applicable to antispyware software as well. Many antivirus vendors bundle antispyware software into their antivirus products or offer it as an add-on module. Other effective (and reputable) antispyware programs include:

Many Trojans and spyware programs masquerade as antispyware software and actually disable genuine antivirus and antispyware programs. Be careful when downloading “antispyware” software!

Firewalls

Firewalls prevent attackers from gaining unauthorized access to your network and can protect your computers and network from some types of malware. Windows Firewall is Microsoft’s free firewall program that is included in Windows 7.

Security updates and fixes

Many malware programs take advantage of known security vulnerabilities that exist in operating systems and software. You may be thinking, “If they’re known, why aren’t they fixed?” Well, computer operating systems and software contain millions of lines of code, so it is inevitable that security vulnerabilities and bugs will exist.

Generally, as soon as a vulnerability or bug is discovered, the software developers get to work on a fix. Unfortunately, the fixes sometimes introduce new vulnerabilities or break earlier fixes, so patching and updating software is an ongoing cycle. In general, you should install any relevant software updates or fixes as soon as they are available.

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The Essentials of Home Network Security

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