Sunday, March 12, 2006

How to set up a new broadband connection

Moving from dial-up to broadband is a great thing. You can do things that would be impossible on dial-up connections, like video conferencing, movie downloading, and a great many other things. But if you're not careful, it can also be a nightmare. Being connected to the internet at high speed 24 hours a day makes it an attractive target for hackers and the malware they use.

But with a little bit of precaution, these problems don't have to happen. Here are a few tips for making the transition to broadband quick and painless.

  1. Get a router. A consumer-grade gateway router doesn't cost much (often under $100). A router provides several features that help enormously.
    • NAT. Short for Network Address Translation. A broadband service provider typically provides only one IP address, which will only allow one computer to connect to the internet. NAT is a facility that allows multiple computers to share that one address. You can have an entire network of PCs all connected to the router (either directly or with a hub). The router will assign a private IP address to each computer and will translate all their addresses to the one address assigned by your ISP. It also tracks connections and remembers which computer created each one, allowing them all to access the internet at the same time. If you have more than one computer, this feature is an absolute necessity.
    • Firewall. When NAT is being used, a packet coming in from the internet could be sent to any one of your computers. If the packet is part of a connection that one of your computers initiated, the router will know which one to send it to. If the packet is not part of an established connection, however, it won't know where to send it, and the packet will be dropped. In other words, computers on the internet can not create connections to your computers. Although this can not prevent all hacking attempts, it will block a very large percentage of them.

      Because of the firewall benefits, I recommend that you NEVER attempt to connect to the internet without a router. Without a firewall (hardware or software-based), a Windows PC can be hacked in as little as four minutes.

  2. Make sure your operating system software is up to date. On Windows XP, this means you must install Service Pack 2, and apply any high-priority updates that have come out since. (And there are a lot.) You should apply these as soon as possible, if they're not already installed. If you can't take the time to download Service Pack 2 (it is a very large download), you can order it on a CD for free. For the rest, you can visit with Internet Explorer to install the updates.
  3. Make sure you have an anti-virus package installed and kept up to date.
  4. A software-based firewall, like the one that comes built-in to Windows XP Service Pack 2, is a good idea in addition to the firewall features you get from a router.
  5. If you plan on setting up a wireless network, make sure your hardware (router and interface cards) support WPA2 encryption. Older encryption standards (like WEP and the original WPA) are much less secure. As a matter of fact, WEP security is so insecure that a hacker can crack it in only an hour or two.

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