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Network security measures are vital to prevent unauthorized users accessing files on your computer. Such measures are particularly important now that many people have "always-on" broadband connections. As well as preventing data loss and security breaches, such measures can stop your computer being used as part of a cyberattack.
An effective firewall is arguably the most important network security measure. It acts a complete block between your computer or network and the outside world, such that only data from specifically authorized websites or programs can get in or out. Windows comes with a built-in firewall which is well worth using. You may have firewall features built directly into your router or modem. And it may be worth looking at separate firewall programs produced by commercial firms.
The two main methods hackers use to figure out passwords mean there are a couple of important steps to choosing a password which will enhance your network security. The first step hackers take is to run an automated program which runs through all the words in the dictionary to see if they are right. This means you should avoid a password which is simply a word; it’s best to use a mix of letters and numbers. The second, more elaborate, hacking technique is to simply try every possible combination of numbers and letters. This means you should use the longest password possible: each extra digit makes your password at least 36 times more secure.
Another step you can take to improve your network security through passwords is to change passwords regularly. Even if there is only a tiny chance that somebody has figured out your password at any one moment, changing it reduces that chance back to zero. It’s also important to avoid using the same password in different situations as this increases the potential problems if your password is discovered.
Wireless network security is particularly important as it’s much easier to physically intercept data from such connections. Where you have the choice, use WPA2 encryption as this is the most secure method. If this isn’t available, prefer standard WPA over WEP unless WPA is not available. Make sure to turn off the wireless connection whenever you are not using it, particularly if you ever plug your laptop into a wired network. And when using a WiFi hotspot, check with staff to make sure you are connected to the genuine network rather than a bogus connection launched by nearby hackers.
For all the technical tricks hackers use to breach network security, half of all data losses are down to equipment being lost or stolen. As well as taking care to protect against this, you should consider encrypting any confidential data stored on a laptop or USB drive. There are several programs available which can protect your data from being accessed by unauthorized users. Some of these programs are open source and therefore free to use, though you should make sure to research and read credible reviews before deciding which to use.
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