If you google on “IT Maintenance,” you’ll find tons of results about the importance of IT maintenance in business environments. Finding articles discussing the importance of IT maintenance in the home is much more difficult. When talking about IT security or performing maintenance on technology, its relevance to business is not just the first thought, it’s usually the only thought. But the fact is, all networks – including your home network – are equally vulnerable to cyberthreats.
The Home Network Landscape is Changing
Six months ago – before we all experienced the impact of COVID-19 – there were few if any discussions about Home IT Maintenance. Most people were simply not interested because they didn’t see the importance of having their home network and information protected in the same manner as small businesses. “I’m not important enough for anyone to target me,” was a typical response when I asked about Home IT Maintenance, and my counter-arguments typically fell on deaf ears.
Fast forward to today – home networks are now commonly used for work-from-home and e-learning. Suddenly clients are very interested in talking about Home IT Maintenance and Security.
At CLARK, we’re seeing an increase in calls for assistance with home IT issues. With employees continuing to work remotely, they are forced to depend more and more on their home networks, so there is far more value in ensuring everything is operating optimally. Also, with kids returning to school with remote options that did not exist in the past, we’re receiving more calls asking for help with issues that inhibit the effectiveness of e-learning, such as WiFi, computer slowness, and installing parental controls.
With an increase in these types of calls, I’ve personally received more questions on Home IT than ever before. Common questions I’m getting are: “How do I know if my personal information is being backed up?” or “Do I need a firewall on my home network?” Since I’m seeing an increase in concern about home IT as this landscape continues to change, I thought I would offer some guidance on Home IT Maintenance.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a Firewall is a piece of hardware that protects your network from the Internet. Having one on your home network is extremely important, because, without it, every computer on that network is at risk. While most Internet Service Providers (ISP) – like Comcast or Verizon – provide a modem that is both a modem and a firewall, this is not always the case. Also, when troubleshooting internet problems, typically the first thing technicians from these companies do is turn off the Firewall – and they don’t always turn them back on.
For these reasons, it is essential to check to make sure that you have one and it is turned on. If you’re not sure, simply call your ISP and ask.
If your ISP has not provided you with a Firewall, don’t panic. All modern routers use network address translation (NAT) to share your internet with other computers, in effect acting as a Firewall. So, if you have more than one device using the internet, whether plugged into the router or over WiFi, you most likely have a Firewall. Again, if you’re not sure, you can always contact the manufacturer of your wireless router and ask.
Finally, for those who don’t have one, both software and hardware Firewalls are available for less than $100 – and it should be installed as soon as possible. Fortunately, if you don’t feel your up to doing it yourself, call CLARK and we’ll happily help you out!
Backup Your Information
Over the years, I’ve had to tell too many home users that they lost all their documents, spreadsheets, and pictures after their computer died. I always feel terrible having to deliver this news, mostly because I know how easy it is to prevent data loss. The problem is that most people either ignore backing up their personal information or if they have set up a backup, they never test it, and then when it’s needed, it doesn’t work.
There is no reason to risk your personal information, tax files, and photos. I always recommend using a cloud-based backup solution like Carbonite to all of our Home IT clients. By default, Carbonite backs up all new or modified files in real-time, and it will notify you when backups are not being run. So long as you pay attention to email alerts, and act on them when there is an issue, you can be assured that your information is safe.
Not only does this protect you from hardware failures, like a hard drive crash, it also helps to protect you from cyber threats, like ransomware.
And don’t forget to back up your smartphone! It’s not uncommon for people today to use their smartphone more than a computer. For most of us, smartphones already contain information most of us would hate to lose. Add to that personal information that is normally used on a computer and the potential loss is that much greater. For this reason, ensuring that your smartphone automatically backs itself up is critical to protecting your information. For those who don’t know how to do this, just google “backup iPhone” or “backup android” and the instructions will be right at the top.
Make Sure Your Antivirus Program is Active and Updated
Too many people ignore antivirus, whether because they got it on promotion and think it is still active, or because they assume it is included on the computer. We are surrounded by cyber threats, and at the top of the list of the threats against home users are viruses and malware. To be secure, every computer in your home must have an antivirus program installed, otherwise, you risk getting infected. And don’t stop there, once the antivirus program is installed, you must ensure that it is running and that it auto-updates.
At CLARK, we recommend using an antivirus program that will notify you onscreen and by email when you encounter a virus and also notify you by email when updates are not applied or if the antivirus stops running.
And remember, smartphones get viruses too! There is a common misconception that a smartphone is safer than a computer or laptop. Don’t fall for that, it is simply not true. As I’ve stated before, a smartphone is a computer and it is a growing target of cybercriminals. If you aren’t running antivirus on your smartphone, download and install one today.
Run All Updates
More than at any time in the past, updates are a key to staying secure in the cyberworld. Most computers, by default, come with auto-updates turned on and we simply need to reboot our computer when prompted. Except that computers aren’t the only devices on our networks. Today, most of us have smart devices at home, such as cameras, TVs, and thermostats. Since these devices are attached to your network, they are just as vulnerable, if not more vulnerable, as your computer. Ensuring that you update these devices regularly means that hackers can’t take advantage of vulnerabilities as they are discovered in these smart devices.
VERY IMPORTANT – be sure that you change the default password for every smart device in your home. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at someone’s network and discovered several devices that still have the default password. In order to get access to the device, anyone can do a quick google search on it with the words default password. Sometimes we make it just too easy to get hacked!
This can be a tough topic to handle on your own. If you really want to ensure that your wireless network is secure, please consult a professional like CLARK. If you want to go it alone, at the minimum, make sure you’re router has strong encryption. This means using a long (16 character) secure password to access your WiFi. Without strong encryption, everything you send or receive is vulnerable to eavesdropping, AND even worse, anyone can join your network, and once connected a cybercriminal can attack every other device connected to the network.
And don’t share your password. This is a big one for families who want to allow their friends onto their WiFi. Rather than giving out your home WiFi password, create a guest network for friends and any extended family that has its own secure password. Although sharing your WiFi password with friends or extended family might seem harmless, it just opens you up to more risk. Should someone you know show up with a device that is unknowingly infected or has been hacked, allowing them to join your home network opens you to compromise as well.
When it comes to personal security, it is always better safe than sorry, and since most home WiFi routers allow for a guest network, it just makes sense to use it.
Security Awareness is Just as Important at Home
We talk about it a lot because it’s extremely important. Security awareness has a HUGE impact on lowering the risk of falling victim to a cyberattack. This is just as true at home as it is at work. Families who are aware of the cyber threats out there have proven to reduce the risk of a successful attack by over 90%. If you’re not sure how to get started, keep reading The Clark Report! Our security experts strive to include Security Awareness in our articles specifically to keep it in the forefront of our client’s thoughts.
We are under a new paradigm due to COVID-19 and it’s going to be with us for a while yet. Today, we have a bigger need than ever before to keep our home networks safe, secure, and running optimally. Maintenance is key to making that happen.
With that in mind, we are now offering Home IT Maintenance Plans. Please feel free to contact us for more information or for assistance in planning and implementing your own Home IT Maintenance.
I left big business to start Clark Computer Services in 2003; not because I had a grand vision, but because I had three young children who needed their Dad around. Knowing I had to replace my salary, I went door-to-door visiting small businesses to introduce myself and ask if they needed IT support. I heard story after story from business owners and office managers about IT companies not returning calls and emails, grumpy technicians showing up late or not at all, and systems being down for days, weeks, and in some cases…months. I realized quickly that there was a clear and pressing need for reliable, honest, and professional IT support completed pleasantly and on time.