So you’ve got Broadband – now what?

A Broadband connection is much more than a faster version of dial-up. It will change the way you use your computer… but it also presents a new set of problems and challenges. Here are some tips to make your broadband existence easier, faster and safer.

1: Keep Windows Patched!
The single biggest thing that you can do to make your computer secure is to keep your Operating System patched. Most people who use dial-up do not bother, since the process of downloading patches takes far too long. An unpatched windows machine connected to the Internet via Broadband can be compromised in as little as twenty minutes.

Now that you have Broadband you no longer have an excuse. If you don’t trust Microsoft (and I don’t), at least configure Automatic Updates to “notify” or “download and notify”. If you would rather put Microsoft in the driving seat, configure it to “Download and Install”. Whatever you do, don’t just turn Automatic Updates off and hope that it will never happen to you!

2: Get a firewall
When you were on dial-up, you had two advantages. Firstly, the slow speed of your “pipe” made it difficult for bad guys to actually do anything with your computer. Secondly, and more importantly, every time you dialed in, your computer would be assigned a different “IP Address”. This made it difficult for the bad guys to find you. That was then this is now; with Broadband, you will typically keep an IP address for weeks, if not months.

Congratulations. You are now a target.

The best way to deal with this problem is to get a Firewall. “What is a firewall?” I hear you ask. Let me draw a picture. A firewall is like a bouncer – a large, burly fellow who stands at the door, inspects credentials and kicks out people who shouldn’t be there. So when the bad guys come knocking, a good firewall will refuse to do business with them, denying them access or – even better – convincing them that there is no computer at this address.

While there are some good software firewalls, software can always crash or be removed – a hardware firewall is better. The good news is that most Wireless routers have a feature called Network Address Translation (but his friends call him NAT) which effectively operates as a hardware firewall. A router can be gotten for as little as $30.

3: Get an antivirus… and keep it up to date.
AVG has a free one. They make it difficult to find while pushing their paid products, but that is understandable. Get it. Install it. Keep it updated.

4: Install and USE Antispyware tools
I recommend Ad-aware and Spybot Search and Destroy. Both are free. Scan with both weekly and keep them up-to-date (SS&D can be configured to auto-update and auto-scan on startup). Spysweeper is a paid offering that is highly recommended.

5: Lockdown those Kiddie Accounts!
“FREE SCREENSAVERS! DOLPHINS! SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS! DOWNLOAD HERE!” The siren call is hard to resist, particularly if you’re a kid (or a less-than-disciplined grown-up).

The bad news is that TANSTAAFL (There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch) – many of these programs come with unwanted hitch-hikers – spyware, viruses and programs that attempt to take over your PC.

Fortunately for you, they’ve been forced to suck that data down a very narrow straw – until now; the bad news is that now they have a fire hose – and if you don’t tell them otherwise, they’re going to use it to download everything in sight. Indeed, chances are, even if you do tell them otherwise, they’ll still download everything in sight. Before you know it, Programs, Services and Directories that you’ve never heard of will start appearing on your computer – and more than likely nobody will admit to putting them there; and the familiar blame-avoidance litany (“it just appeared, Daddy!“) will be heard throughout the land…

Fortunately there is a solution, and it is simple: Create accounts for each person who uses the computer and downgrade the accounts of the less-than-trustworthy to “User” status before the trouble starts. Then put a password on the Administrator account and do not give it out.

When they find out that they cannot install stuff they will whine, moan and complain; my advice is to stick to your guns, even if it means doing all software installations yourself.

Or you can just wait until your system is running slow (if you’re lucky) or unstable (if you’re unlucky) or unbootable (really unlucky) and pay the Geek Squad $300 to repair the damage. Who knows, you might even get to keep your data.

6: Get Firefox – and use it.
Windows suffers from a huge security hole. It’s called Internet Exploder Explorer. This security problem began way back when Microsoft was being pilloried for Bundling Internet Explorer with Windows 95. Netscape thought that this was unfair. Rather than allow the competition to get a foothold, Microsoft buried Internet Explorer so deeply within their next OS – Windows 98 – that they claimed that it was “part of the Operating System” and could not be unbundled. Most people saw that they had a browser… and never bothered to look at the alternatives.

Until recently. This “integration” of IE is one of the main reasons that IE is such a security problem, The next version at the time of writing – IE7 – will be safer and more secure.

It says here.

They said that about IE6… and IE5.5… and IE5.0… and IE4.

Personally I don’t believe a word of it – Since IE3, each new version seems to have more security issues than the one before.

Firefox is my browser of choice. Partly because it is far more powerful (thanks to features like tabbed browsing and protected passwords, along with literally hundreds of extensions), partly because it runs as an application rather than part of the OS and partly because it does not support ActiveX scripting. There are some sites out there that require IE (mostly for ActiveX support)… but for all other sites I use Firefox. You should too.

7: Install an e-mail checker
The paradox of e-mail is that you don’t know you have e-mail until you check. For a family where each person has their own desktop, having to switch users and check mail only to find that you have none is a pain. I use and recommend ePrompter which allows you to…

  • See how many messages everyone has in their mailboxes, and view the headers
  • Read and reply to messages (optional)
  • Easily remove spam.
  • Check for e-mail every X minutes.

This program is also an excellent way for pro-active parents to know what e-mails their children are receiving.

8: Get a UPS
No, we’re not talking about the guys in the Brown shorts here; you need an Uninterruptible Power Supply.

Broadband does not just mean a faster connection, it also usually leads to a lifestyle change. You will find yourself using tools and techniques that were impossible or difficult before. An always-on Internet connection requires an always-on computer.

A UPS is a battery that keeps your computer running for a short period of time when the power goes down. It also protects against power spikes. The better ones automatically shut down your computer if the power has been out for a while and the battery is low, which protects your data.

A cheap UPS is better than an expensive surge protector, and most UPSs have some kind of connected equipment warranty, which will replace connected hardware that gets fried. A UPS can be had for as little as $30, though the better ones have more features and keep your equipment up for longer. Get the best that you can reasonably afford.

Don’t forget to connect Cable/DSL Modem and Router to it – they consume little power and it saves the delays and hassles of having to restart them.

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