Understanding Your Computer Network Environment
Let’s start by finding out more about the networking devices you use to connect to the Internet. Here are some key facts that you should know:
What is the make, model, and version of the modem or router provided by your Internet Service Provider (ISP)? If you live in Wallingford, CT you would have Comcast or the now Frontier, but if you live in Meriden, CT you would likely have COX.They are different companies and their networking devices are also different.
Knowing the make, model, and version of your modem or router will not only help you understand the device’s features and limitations, but will also help you properly secure it. Check the outside of the device or read the manual to find this information.
What are the IP address and login credentials for your modem or router?
Most modems and routers will have the default login information and IP address printed on the body. The modem or modem-router combination that your ISP provides is what we typically call the gateway device. A gateway is networking device which handles communication from your network to the outside world. Settings on this device will dictate how the rest of your network behaves.
How is your network connected to the Internet?
A basic understanding of which devices connect to what can be very helpful. A simple map structure of your network can come in handy when locating and troubleshooting a network problem. Consider examining the gateway device, computer and wiring. Draw a simple map to help identify the network topology.
Finally, remember to note the various types of devices on your network.
A modem is not exactly the same as a combination modem-router, and each will handle your network traffic in a unique way. There are many online resources that can help you understand your network devices.
Tips to Secure Your Network Environment
Now that you have a better understanding of your home network, here are a few simple steps you can take to minimize unauthorized access.
Change the login credentials on your gateway device and router.
Most modems and routers have default login credentials that make initial configuration easy. After the initial setup, change the username (if possible) and password to prevent unauthorized access to your modem or router. There are many online resources that provide a list of default login credentials for modems and routers, which can be used to easily compromise your network.
Keep your operating system and router updated.
Most vulnerabilities are exploited due to outdated software and/or firmware. Running the latest operating system and router firmware helps protect your network against intrusion.
Have a network use policy for your home.
It is easy to overlook this point, but it is critical to have a set of protocols that everyone should follow. For example, one of our rules at home is don’t click on suspicious links.
Create separate guest networks for visitors.
Typically, if you have a Wi-Fi network and users connect to the same access point, those users are a part of and have access to your network. Isolating guest users helps prevent access to your local network resources. Many home routers have this feature, but it has to be enabled. Consult your router’s manual on how to configure a separate guest network.
Disable your router’s remote login feature.
Many routers allow you to remotely log in to your home machine and network, but this makes your network vulnerable to attacks. Disabling the remote login feature will prevent others who are not directly connected to your router from accessing it.
Stay up-to-date on technology news about your network devices.
Keeping up with the latest news about online threats that target devices on your network, sometimes can help you take necessary actions to either prevent your system from being compromised or find solutions for an already affected system. There are many websites, blogs, and forums dedicated to each of the devices you use to get online. If you prefer short updates, you can sign up for news updates or follow like-minded individuals or groups on their social media sites. Lastly, be aware of changes in your network environment. If you notice that your connection speed has slowed down significantly, or if your machine is running slower than usual, these are signs that something is going on and needs to be checked.
I have spent the last 17 years gainfully employed in the technology sector, most of those years working for fortune 500 companies managing complex networks. By no means is this a definitive guide on computer networking. However, having a grasp of how your network is set up and applying basic security measures will not only help you troubleshoot your home network problems, but they will also minimize malicious attackers from gaining access to your network.