How Vulnerable Is Your Home Network, Really?

Your home is your castle. At least, that’s what you’ve been told all these years. What if an invisible threat lurked in the digital plumbing that connects it to the wider world?

Among cybersecurity experts like George Otte, there’s growing alarm that home wireless networks simply aren’t as safe as many people assume. That’s a problem, because poorly defended networks expose users to all sorts of scary risks.

Here’s a look at why your home network might be more exposed than you realize…and a few tips for fixing that ASAP.

Shaky Credentials?

Your home wireless network’s most vulnerable point is its router. That’s because millions of home routers retain their default credentials — the password that allows administrative access to the machine and protects against unauthorized use. If hackers someone become aware of your router’s default credentials (and they’re not hard for seasoned cybercriminals to uncover), they can use your router to infect your home devices with all manner of nasty malware.

Why Home Network Hacking Matters

Home network hacking isn’t just a problem for the individual users it affects. If your home network is compromised, your devices can spread malware far and wide — to anyone in your email contacts and to other computers on the public wireless networks you use, to name but two avenues. In other words, you could unwittingly become a vector for cybercriminals.

How to Protect Your Router

Fortunately, securing a home wireless network is a straightforward affair. The simplest step you can take is simply to change the default credentials on your router. You can also set up WPA encryption for your router, which doesn’t require expert-level tech savvy. These two steps are likely to prevent the most basic, common attacks.

For a more robust approach to home network protection, use an OpenDNS server that protects you from some of the threats on your default server. You can also disable remote admin access (if enabled), further choking off entry to your network. Finally, you can use open-source firmware (or simply keep your firmware up to date) rather than rely on manufacturer firmware that may be out of date by the time it reaches you.

Threats Abound

It’s often said that the cybersecurity landscape resembles an arms race between two mortal enemies. As each side fights for position, advancing and retreating across a scarred battlefield, the real casualties are all too often rank-and-file technology users who just want to be left to surf the Web in peace.

Given the proliferation of digital threats out there, it’s important not to put too much stock in any one threat over any other. Home wireless networks might be a key vulnerability for average Web users. But there are plenty of other threats — unsecured public networks, phishing scams, trojans and who knows what else. As a concerned user, the best thing you can do is be aware of as many threats as you can, and vigilant to suspicious activity that could presage something worse to come..

These 5 Computer Viruses Were Really, Truly Awful

These days, the world’s scariest viruses often don’t always attack the human body. Some attack the digital infrastructure that we depend on for, well, just about everything. Computer viruses — and trojans, worms and other nasty pieces of malware — are the next frontier in global “health.”

Not all computer viruses are super-widespread or destructive. Some infect a few machines locally, then die out, go dormant or otherwise become inactive.

Some, though, wreak havoc across frighteningly wide geographies. Viruses have been responsible for some of the worst data breaches in history and have sapped untold billions of dollars from the global economy. Even the world’s best digital minds struggle to keep up with the relentless barrage of new digital treats.

There are plenty of contenders for “worst computer virus of all time,” but these five stand head and shoulders above the rest. Have you come face to face with any of these in your digital travels?

  1. Melissa

Named for a Florida stripper, Melissa actually wasn’t intended to cause havoc. Back in the late 1990s, when Internet pornography was still pretty novel, Melissa was conceived as a self-replicating file containing special passwords to nearly 100 adult websites. However, its self-replication capabilities proved overwhelming, and it quickly infected millions of machines across the United States — leading Microsoft to shut down its email servers for a time.

  1. My Doom

Unleashed in 2004, My Doom still holds the “world’s fastest-spreading virus” title. It ultimately infected 1 in 12 computers worldwide, a shocking total in any era, and forced Google to shut down for a full day. Worse, the authorities never caught the perpetrators. They could be working on their follow-up right now.

  1. Klez

2001’s Klez was the most sophisticated virus to date. It selected the optimal transmission method based on network and machine characteristics, and was one of the first viruses to effectively employ spoofing. Subsequent viruses copied many of its tricks.

  1. Nimda

Released in 2001, Nimda was one of the first viruses to affect cell phones (though, due to the low number of Internet-connected phones at the time, the damage was minimal). More notably, it affected backend systems across the web, throwing corporate operations into a cocked hat.

  1. SQL Slammer

SQL Slammer spread across the world in 2003, causing more than $1 billion in economic damages due to disrupted air travel systems, email servers and financial systems. It took Bank of America’s ATM network offline temporarily and caused Continental to cancel a handful of flights, disrupting thousands of travel plans.

No Rest for the Digital Weary

Sure as the sun rises, new digital threats will rear their ugly heads in the years to come. Some might make the malware described above seem quaint and mild by comparison. It’s critical for all Internet users, no matter how little they know about technology or how carefully they surf the Web, to stay vigilant. As the Boy Scouts say, “Always be prepared.”

Embrace the Tablet Revolution with These 4 iPad Tips

The iPad is an incredible piece of hardware that combines the computing power of a desktop with the (almost) mobility of a smartphone. Once you get the hang of it, it’s hard not to love the device’s simplicity and versatility.

Then again, we’re not born with iPads in our hands. The device’s basic interface and lesser quirks take some getting used to, particularly for users more comfortable with desktops, laptops or mainframes (just kidding). If you’re looking to embrace the iPad revolution without tearing your hair out in the process, follow these four simple iPad tips.

  1. Know the Difference Between “Suspend” and Reboot

Rebooting your iPad is the single most effective way to solve minor user experience problems, such as lags or freezes in open programs. Unfortunately, it’s easy to confuse the reboot function with “suspend” mode. To reboot, hold down the sleep/wake button until you’re shown the shutdown menu, then follow the instructions. Once the screen is completely black, wait a few moments and hold down sleep/wake until the Apple logo appears.

  1. Use Autocorrect If You’re in a Rush

Most old-school computing devices lack an autocorrect feature — a significant inconvenience for rushed typists, particularly when they’re used to thumbing out short notes and messages on their smartphones. Happily, the iPad does have autocorrect. Score!

  1. AirPlay Lets You Stream on Demand

If you’re within WiFi range of an Apple TV device, the AirPlay feature (denoted by a rectangle-triangle icon) lets you stream media from your iPad direct to your TV. Small screen, meet big screen!

  1. There’s a Find My iPad, Too

If you’re an iPhone user, you probably know about the “Find My iPhone” app. Maybe you’ve used it after misplacing your device a time or two. (No judgments here.)

Fewer people know that there’s also a “Find My iPad” feature. While it’s slightly more difficult to lose your iPad, you never know when you’ll leave it in a gym back, at the office or in your car and forget about it until the next time you need it. “Find My iPad” ensures that you don’t have to worry about a permanently lost device. And if the feature suggests that you’ve been the victim of theft, it can help the authorities track the thief’s movements.

Never Stop Learning

On the one hand, it’s hard to believe the iPad has been around since 2010. Despite the fact that it’s ubiquitous in the workplace and nearly so in the home, Apple’s sleek tablet still seems futuristic to folks used to laptops and desktops.

On the other hand, it’s hard to believe the iPad has only been around for a few years. During its short public life, the device has revolutionized personal computing — creating a host of new applications and opportunities for creative users.

One thing is clear: Until something better comes along, the iPad is here to stay — in continually updating form, of course. If you love the current version of the iPad, you’re likely to embrace subsequent models. Make sure you’re staying on top of things as new features and functions emerge.

What’s your favorite part of iPad ownership?