How Should I Set Up My Home Network?

Let’s say you just bought your second computer. Perhaps you purchased a new laptop, tablet, new machine for your spouse, or another machine for yourself. Maybe you want to connect your smartphone via Wi-Fi when you’re at home, to reduce the usage of your mobile data plan. Perhaps you got a smart TV, light switch, video-streaming box, or Echo or Echo-like device.

Whatever the device, you want to connect it to the internet. It would also be nice to share things, like printers or extra disk space, among compatible devices.

You, my friend, need a LAN, or Local Area Network. There are lots of ways to set one up; I’ll review the basic setup for the most common case.

Already have a network, but not sure how to grow it? I’ll look at that, too.

First, let’s look at the two types of networks: wired and wireless.

Read moreHow Should I Set Up My Home Network?

If My Anti-virus is Working Properly, Do I Still Need a Firewall?

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I’m second year computer science student in college. Some of my peers and other IT professionals keep telling me that in order to work well on your computer without anything coming into your way (like having some important pop-ups denied or having some authenticate downloads denied) you need to turn off the firewall. They say as long as you have an up-to-date anti-virus software you’re safe. How true is this and can I really be safe with my firewall off? Again, considering that I have a perfectly working anti-virus software.

Basically, I disagree with what people have been telling you. I actually disagree fairly strongly.

Yes, you need a firewall. And no, a firewall isn’t going to prevent some kind of pop-up or authentic download that you initiate.

Read moreIf My Anti-virus is Working Properly, Do I Still Need a Firewall?

Does a VPN give me complete security?

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I recently signed up with a personal VPN service for several reasons. I’d like an unbiased opinion of their value in terms of real security, privacy, etc., and also the potential unintended consequences of using them. I like the idea of having my email completely secured. No tracking (by Google or Bing) of my searches and portability to public hotspots. But I’ve also read that because VPN tunnels through my router’s NAT firewall, I might be giving up a valuable layer of security when I use it at home.

I use a robust anti-virus firewall of course, but I know you recommend a NAT firewall as a strong first line of defense against internet attacks. Are there other potential downsides to casual use? I’m not recommending one “pay for” service over another, but I happened to sign up with Witopia and I’m quite satisfied so far. Thanks for any thoughts on the subject.

I’m a little concerned that there may be some fundamental misunderstandings of exactly what a VPN does and what it does not get you.

To be clear, a VPN does nothing more than encrypt and route all of your internet traffic through the VPN provider’s server. That’s it. What happens after that server actually doesn’t change.

Is your email completely secured? That depends on what you mean.

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How Do I Keep My Computer from Being Hacked at Night?

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I’m online sometimes late night into the morning. Being an IT student, I’ve read about hackers using the night to scan for active IP addresses and hack it using back doors for fun. Can you recommend any free software that can help prevent back door attacks and work alongside my anti-virus and my Windows firewall? Also, should I change from Windows firewall?

To be honest, I’ve never, ever heard of this so-called nighttime scanning. I wouldn’t believe it if I did. It’s always nighttime somewhere and the internet is global.

My servers are located somewhere in Michigan, but hackers from China try to hack into them at all hours of the day. It  happens constantly. The reality is that any computer connected to the internet is being attacked in one form or another pretty much all the time.

It’s one of the reasons why tech people like me speak so religiously about anti-malware tools and firewalls. But there are a couple of different ways to discourage hackers from choosing you.

Read moreHow Do I Keep My Computer from Being Hacked at Night?

How Does NAT Work?

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Regarding your article What’s the difference between a hub, a switch, and a router? your description of routers raised a question. When using NAT, how does the router know which local IP address should receive an incoming packet? Using your example network, suppose computer “A” sends out a packet to someone on the internet. But what if at the SAME time, computer “B” sends out a packet to the SAME someone?

Now, each local IP address (from computers “A” and “B”) both get translated to the same internet IP address (72.134.xx on your diagram) and then sent out to the same someone on the internet. That person then sends back responses for both computer “A” and computer “B” on the same internet IP address. The router receives these response packets, but how does the router know which packet goes to which computer? Both came in from the same place with the same destination internet IP address.

It turns out that NAT, or Network Address Translation, is actually a very simple concept; one that we rely on every day to share a single internet connection across multiple computers as well as to keep those computers safe from internet threats.

Simple in concept, maybe, but difficult – complex even – to explain.

But, I’ll give it a shot.

Read moreHow Does NAT Work?