31 August, 2008

Safe and Secure Internet Surfing

I started my research on this blog entry thinking I was going to give you an easy, free solution to make sure you are secure when surfing from an un-secure Internet connection. First let's discuss the problem we're trying to solve. Whenever you connect to the Internet over a network that others have access to, you open yourself up for others to track and intercept your habits and data. This is called a "man-in-the-middle" attack.

Take for example a free wireless hotspot. You and anyone else can get on this network (Is your home wireless network secure?). With an easy to find program, another user on the network can pose as the host, and all your data will pass right through their computer for easy intercept. Another very common place for this to occur is in hotels. Even though you may have a wired connection, again anyone else on the network can potentially fool your computer into being the host and intercept your data. Of course this is never known to the poor individual who's data is being intercepted, because the fake host is passing through to you the data you've requested (i.e. you still see and interact with the websites).

There is also a new privacy invasion technique going on that is being done by ISPs. For a few dollars, ISPs are allowing 3rd party companies to set up servers in their data rooms that monitor your Internet activity, and in turn sell this information to advertisers. The argument is that in return, users will get more targeted advertisements. In truth, you're being watched without your permission and in fact once captured, your data could end up in anyone's hands. [See the last paragraph for more information on this.]

So there's the issue. For most of us right now, it's the threat when accessing the Internet when in a public place. How can you protect yourself? Make sure your data is encrypted when leaving your computer and traveling across the Internet. If your company provides VPN access, that will give you an encrypted path between your machine and the office network -- this is the solution we need. Before I go on, let me talk a bit about VPN and the Internet.

At some point, for your computer and a server on the Internet to communicate, the data bits need to be unencrypted (with the exception of an SSL connect -- for another time). Using VPN, the bits are encrypted between your computer and the VPN server. The VPN server, on a secure network, stays in the middle and decrypts your data coming from you and encrypts them when going to you. For the Internet servers, it appears the traffic is coming from the location of the VPN server, instead of your computer. (Visit How Stuff Works to learn more about VPN.)

So back to solving our problems. If your office VPN will also encrypt your traffic to go on the Internet, then you could use that as a potential solution. Be sure to check with your IT department, as in some cases they only encrypt when you're talking to the office network. Also remember that the folks in the IT department have access to your data -- don't visit any sites that you don't want your company to know about.

If the office is out, and you don't want to create your own VPN (more on that later), then you can use a public VPN. I looked at two possible solutions, iPig (iOpus Private Internet Gateway) and HotSpot Shield. iPig will give you 10 Mb of free bandwidth, and then it's $30 for 30 Gb of bandwidth. Though I used the bandwidth in a manner of minutes view some pictures, I did have time to test the speed. My typical connection speed is 5 Mb/s down and 2 Mb/s up. Using iPig I was able to achieve 3.5 Mb/s down and 1 Mb/s up. It also introduced a lag of about 200 ms (21 ms to 227 ms). The lag will vary based on how close you are to the iPig servers in Texas.

Unfortunately I didn't have any luck using HotSpot Shield -- I could never get it to connect. HotSpot Shield is an ad supported solution and requires your web browser to work. I tried Firefox 3 and Internet Explore 8, Beta 2 several times without success. I even tried re-installing HotSpot Shield, but still had no luck. It does come recommended by LifeHacker and Chris Pirillo, so maybe you'll have better luck.

What other options do you have? In addition to searching for other Public VPN solutions, such as PublicVPN or Sonic.net, you can set up your own VPN solution. Of course this wont solve the problem of your ISP allowing your Internet traffic to be spied on, it will work to protect you when you're on the road. What you do is create a VPN to a computer on your home (or other trusted) network, and then surf from there. If you want to go down this path, I would recommend looking at OpenVPN.

If you don't want to go through the hassle of setting up and maintaining a VPN Server, try GoToMyPC or something similar. With GoToMyPC, you log into your home computer, and then use it to do all your Internet activity. Again, it doesn't solve the issue with an ISP who is tracking your Internet activity, but in addition to giving you a secure connection, you can work on a PC you are familiar with (yours). It has the added benefit in that you do not need to have important files on your laptop; just access them when required using GoToMyPC. GoToMyPC is $20 p/month.

As I mentioned throughout this article, some ISPs are now tracking users' behavior in exchange for money -- what else. Is your ISP in this group? Check out this article from the Silicon Alley Insider, published August 15, 2008.
...seven ISPs have quietly started testing a service from ad-targeting firm NebuAd, which tracks surfers' Web use, with little or no notice to subscribers.
Make sure you tell your ISP that you will find a new ISP if they end up on this list. The Washing Post published an article on this back in April, as did the New York Times. Find out about what had started earlier this year in the UK here and here. Finally, if you really want to understand the gory details, Steve Gibson of GRC and the Security Now podcast covers it all in a three-part series beginning with episode 149.

The Best, Free CD and DVD Burner

I was provided a used laptop at my new job a few months back, and I was surprised when I did not find a pre-installed CD burning software such as Sonic or Roxio. This led me on a hunt to find something for free; I ended up with CDBurnerXP. I was quite impressed with how easy to use CDBurnerXP is to use -- the screens are very intuitive and helpful.

When creating a data disk, you get a Windows Explore like view on the top half of the screen, where you can navigate to the files you want to burn and drag them to the bottom half of the screen. Seems obvious and simple, but not all programs work so well. As I add my files, a bar across the bottom shows how much space I've used; if I exceed the capacity of my disc, the background color changes from green to red.

To create an audio disk is very similar, except the bottom half shows my tracks and their details. CDBurnerXP makes it very easy to drag and drop audio tracks to put them in the order you desire. If you want to sample a file, you can drag the audio file onto the Audio Player that is conveniently included in the interface. CDBurnerXP supports creating audio discs from the following audio formats: mp3, wav, ogg, flac and wma.

You can also burn ISO images, copy discs, and erase re-writable discs with CDBurnerXP. If this wasn't already enough to make CDBurnerXP a great CD burner, the fact that you can also burn DVDs truely makes it a great product.

I found myslef again at work looking for burning software, this time for DVDs. Based on the name, I had originally dismissed CDBurnerXP. But after trying three other DVD burning packages (StarBurn, ImgBurn, and Burn4Free) , that all failed at various stages, I checked out CDBurnerXP. Sure enough it could burn data on to DVDs, and it performed flawlessly.

I could not find much information on the company that creates CDBurnXP, Canneverbe Limited, so that is still a bit of a mystery too me. All their latest release notes are written by Flo, a developer from German.

CDBurnXP includes many additional featured; here are a few more:
  • Support for 30 additional languages beyond the default English.
  • Ability to print a simple cover from the list of files for a standard CD case, a slim CD case, a DVD case, a mini CD case, and Light Scribe.
  • Option to apply Tack Gain or Album Gain to give you more even sound levels for your audio CDs.
  • The use of variables for creating disc lables.
  • A dropbox utility that sits on your desktop (you can move it where ever you want it), where you can drag-and-drop files onto to build your data disk.
Needless to say, I think this is a great CD and DVD burning utility software package. Check it out for yourself. CDBurnerXP just released version 4.2.1.919 on August 23, 2008.

28 August, 2008

Get ebooks and audio books for free

If you enjoy reading, you know that the cost of getting new books can add up quickly. For the commuters who listen to books, purchasing new audio books is nearly prohibitive. If you fall into one of these groups, you might find Project Gutenberg to be a great resource.
Project Gutenberg is the first and largest single collection of free electronic books, or eBooks. Michael Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg, invented eBooks in 1971 and continues to inspire the creation of eBooks and related technologies today.
Imaging going to a never ending bookshelf to pick your next book to read. Project Gutenberg is a volunteer organization working to make every public domain (copyright-free) book available in electronic form. Unfortunately copyright law has changed since Project Gutenberg was started. While a book used to be public domain 28 years after written, the law now says the author must be dead for 50 years. Nevertheless, there is quite a collection of interesting books available -- 25,000 free books for that matter (over 22,000 in English), with over 100,000 if you include partners and affiliates of Project Gutenberg.

To give you an idea of the quality of the ebooks available, with nearly 90,000 downloads in just 1 day, here is a list of the top 10 authors downloaded yesterday (27-Aug-2008) -- link to top 100 authors from yesterday:
  1. Dickens, Charles (1165)
  2. Twain, Mark (1150)
  3. Miles, Alexander (969)
  4. Thomson, Alexis (969)
  5. Austen, Jane (941)
  6. Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sir (923)
  7. Horne, Charles F. (Charles Francis) (758)
  8. Thomson, J. Arthur (726)
  9. Shakespeare, William (725)
  10. Verne, Jules (634)
If an audio book is more of your interest, there are over 12 languages that have 50 or more audio books, with an additional 43 languages having at least one book. For example there are 2 books in North American Indian and 4 in Afrikaans. Project Gutenberg is working with Librivox to get volunteer readers to expand their audio collection.

This past weekend I loaded Peter Pan onto my iPod, and we listened while traveling. My children were pleasantly surprised that there was more to Peter Pan than they realized.

Project Gutenberg does not end here though, you can also find music, sheet music, pictures, and movies. For example, you might want to relive the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing or Mary Had a Little Lamb spoken by Thomas Edison -- the first words into a phonograph.

I could go on and on. Give Project Gutenberg a look next time you're looking for book to read or even next time you're looking for a great volunteer project.

26 August, 2008

Open My Computer view to Explorer View

before
I find that the My Computer view is much less helpful when interacting with files than the Explorer view. By default, when you click on My Computer or My Documents, and folder and drive shortcuts, the left pane contains links to Make a new folder, Publish this folder..., and other not-so-helpful links. I like the Explorer view which has a tree of all folder, open to the folder that I've selected.. Well, with an easy Registry change, the behavior of My Computer and the like can be changed to open in an Explorer view. Go to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Folder\shell and set the default value (Value data) to "explorer" -- that's it.

after

Word and Excel files wont open unless application already open

I recently started having a problem where my Excel 2003 and Word 2003 files would not open when clicked, unless Excel and/or Word was already open. If the application wasn't open, it would open the application, but not load the file. I did quite a bit of searching, but couldn't seem to find the right answer. Some sites recommended checking a setting to Ignore other applications -- a setting that wasn't even available in Word.

Turns out for both applications, it was the Addins that were causing troubles. To remove the offending Addin, you need to edit the Registry. Here's the process I used.
  1. Go to Start > Run..., enter regedit, and click OK.
  2. Go to the following key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Office\Word\ Addins.
  3. Right-click on Addins and select Export. This will let you re-import the keys.
  4. Delete the individual Addins one at a time, testing each time to find the offending Addin.
  5. Once you identify the offending Addin, re-import all Addin keys, and delete only the offending Addin.
    • File > Import...
  6. Repeat the process for Excel at HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Office\Excel\ Addins.
In my case, I found one offending Word Addin, but after deleting all Addins in Excel, I was able to re-import all Addins and the problem was still corrected.

25 August, 2008

Convert date format of CSV and import to MS Access

Similar to my prior post on Convert Date/Time Format with MS Access, this explains how to take a date in dd/mm/yyyy format and convert it to mm/dd/yyyy, so that MS Access will recognize it. It takes just a few easy steps:
  1. Assume you start with your data in CSV format, the first step is to Import the data into Access (File > Get External Data > Import...). When importing the date field, import it as text, therefore loading all the data into your database.
  2. Create a Query to convert your date data and change from text to date format.
    • From Design View, add all the fields except the field with your date data that you want converted.
    • Insert a new field, and add (Build...) the following formula (see explanation and picture below):
      NEW_DATE: CDate(Mid$([DATE],4,3) & Left$([DATE],3) & Right$([DATE],4))
  3. Run the query to validate that the formula is entered correctly.
  4. Once verified, change the Query Type to a Make-Table Query.
    • Give it a name
    • Run the query
    • Confirm the number of new rows
  5. Open your newly created table and again, you can validate your data -- your date is now in mm/dd/yyyy format.
  6. For clean-up sake, you can delete the query and the originally imported table.
Formula explained:
NEW_DATE: CDate(Mid$([DATE],4,3) & Left$([DATE],3) & Right$([DATE],4))
  • NEW_DATE: Column name of the new date field.
  • CDate: Converts the text field to a date field. This only works if the text is in a supported date format.
  • [DATE]: The name of the field that is being operated on. In our example, it is the text field that has the original date format.
  • Mid$([DATE],4,3): Gets three characters from the data field, beginning witht he forth character, e.g. 10/
  • Left$([DATE],3): Gets the first 3 characters of our data field, e.g. 23/.
  • Right$([DATE],4): Gets the right four characters from our data field, e.g. 2008.
  • &: Joins the data together, e.g. (10/) & (23/) & (2008) = (10/23/2008)
I hope this is helpful.

Fix crashing iPhone Apps

I discovered an easy fix to crashing iPhone Apps... turn Airplane Mode on and off or shut your iPhone off and on. By doing this, your iPhone re-establishes itself with the cell phone network. This reminds me of troubles I used to have with my old Sprint phone -- the longer I had it on, the more likely I would have problems with dropped calls. According to Sprint at the time, the cell phone needs to periodically re-establish itself with the cell database. This seems to have worked for me with the iPhone, as my crashes were always occurring when the iPhone was interacting over the network, such as trying to establish my location.

Note that I have a first generation iPhone on firware 2.0.1. Let me know if this works for you or not.

21 August, 2008

Open the (DOS) Command Prompt at any Folder

If you're like me, over the years I've started to forget some of those old DOS commands. One that we still need to use occasionally is the cd command to navigate to a file in a different folder, because whenever you go to the Command Prompt you begin in the C:\Documents and Settings\[your username] folder. With a minor entry into your Folder Options, you can actually open directly to the folder you want using Windows Explorer.

Here's how you do it:
1. Open a Windows Explore window (Windows Key + E)
2. Click on Tools
3. Select Folder Options...

4. Click on the File Types tab
5. Click on [NONE] Folder
6. Click on Advanced

7. Click on New
8. Type "Command Prompt" in the Action box
9. Type "cmd.exe" in the Application used to perform action box
10 . Click OK on each of the dialog boxes until you are back to the Windows Explorer window

Now see it in action:
1. Right-click on a folder in the left-pane
2. Click Command Prompt
3. You will see a (DOS) Command Prompt window open to the directory of the folder you clicked
Note that if you click on a folder in the right-pane, it will open to the directory of the parent folder.


19 August, 2008

Is your Windows environment secure enough?

I found a new tool from Microsoft that will evaluate the security of your PC, and give instructions on how to correct potential vulnerabilities.
Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer (MBSA) is an easy-to-use tool designed for the IT professional that helps small- and medium-sized businesses determine their security state in accordance with Microsoft security recommendations and offers specific remediation guidance.


You don't need to be an IT professional to use MBSA, as instructions for correcting potential vulnerabilities are easy to follow. MBSA examines the following areas on your Windows computer:
  • Security Updates
  • Windows Administrative Vulnerabilities and System Issues, e.g. is Windows Firewall enabled, is the Guest Account disabled, and if are unnecessary Services turned off
  • Internet Information Services (IIS) Administrative Vulnerabilities and System Issues, e.g. are the sample applications removed and has the IIS Lockdown patch been applied
    Note, many folks do not realize that they have IIS unnecessarily running on their computer
  • Desktop Application Administrative Vulnerabilities
Of course this does not cover all of your security needs, but it is important all the same. For additional information to see if your computing environment is secure, read my posts "Is Your Windows XP Computer Internet Safe?" and "Is your home network secure?"

16 August, 2008

Google Maps not displaying in Firefox 3

In looking up some locations in Google Maps today, I found that the map images were not displaying. The searches worked, and I did get the list of possible matches on the left side. Thanks to some searching through Google I found the problem. The current Skype add-on (v.2.2.0.87) for Firefox is causing this problem. I'm not sure how they are related, but by disabling the Skype add-on fixed the problem.

It appears this Skype Add-on is also causing screen redraw issues for some users of Firefox as well.

14 August, 2008

Simple backup and file move utility

I was looking earlier in the week for a simple utility to monitor a folder and update equivalent folders on two other machines, based on content changing. I found SyncBackSE from 2BrightSparks to do the trick. This $30 utility program saved me countless hours in writing my own solution. SyncBackSE comes with a fully functional 30 day trial.

SyncBackSE can be used to backup files or to keep folders in sync. Sounds pretty simple, but it can get rather complex. SyncBackSE has two configuration interfaces, easy and expert. Let me run through creating a simple backup Profile.
  1. Click Ctrl-N to start a new Profile.
  2. Select source and destination directories (folders). These can be on mapped drives or even UNC paths.
  3. Accept the default backup (or sync) settings, or adjust as required. For example:
    • If a file appears on the destination, but not on the source, do you want to delete it or copy it back to the source?
    • If a file has changed on the destination, but not on the source, do you want to over write the source, over write the destination, or ignore it?
  4. Schedule when the profile should run.
Sounds simple enough, but what if the destination directory is on another computer that requires access credentials. SynckBackSE supports that, including a Test button to validate you entered the correct credentials, instead of waiting until it fails. Perhaps the destination can only be accessed via FTP; SyncBackSE can do that too. One final feature that I used -- the ability to export and import profiles. After getting SyncBackSE programmed and working like I wanted in my test environment, I was able to export the profiles and import them to the production environment -- the only necessary changes was the different computers.

Oh, I almost missed this feature -- it can work from the command line. And I can also simulate the backup or sync, validating my work before letting it run free. There are even more features -- you'd better check it out for yourself.

SyncBackSE worked so well, I downloaded the freeware version, SyncBack to take over my backup chores at home. It appears SyncBack (freeware) is just an earlier version of SyncBackSE -- v.3.2 / v.4.1. The configuration interface for SyncBack is just a little different (not as good as SyncBackSE) and perhaps a bit less sophisticated, but perfect for backups.

Of course a backup is only as good as the ability to recover files. Here's the instructions for restoring from a backup.
Restoring a backup in SyncBack is a simple matter of selecting a profile and clicking the 'Restore' button located in the lower menu...
A restore operation swaps the source and destination directories...
Perfect. Of course it will also allow you to configure whether it should over-write newer files on the restore or not. If I'm restoring lost files, I wouldn't want other files over-written. On the other hand, if i am restoring files that had been corrupted, then I would want it to overwrite.

If my rave review is not enough, when you go to the 2BrightSparks website, you will see that SyncBack and SyncBackSE have also won countless awards.

Unable to call out on the iPhone

Update, 10:22 am PST: I am now able to make calls, receive email, and use the network.

Update, 10:05 am
PST: AT&T customer service confirmed that there is a major outage in Oregon and Washington and they are sending a technician out to fix it. They have no ETA on when it will be back up. This affects only the 2G network -- 3G is up and working.

Update, 9:50 am PST: Still no change. No incoming or outgoing calls, nor access to any network functions.

It's 9:00 am PST, just south of Portland, OR, and I am unable to dial out or receive calls on my first generation (firmware 2.0.1) iPhone. I confirmed the same experience with 3 of my co-workers. Data services are also down. I'll be looking for that credit on my next bill from AT&T.

11 August, 2008

New Firefox 3 Keyboard Shortcuts Tri-Fold




I have updated my 2006, Firefox 2 keyboard shortcut tri-fold for Firefox 3. I added about a dozen new keyboard shortcuts from my prior version. Click on each of the gif files to view a full version or just download by right-clicking.










Print one image on each side of your paper, and then fold into three.

09 August, 2008

Fun with Firefox 3

Here's a few fun easter eggs in Firefox. In the "awesome" address bar, try entering each of these:
  • about:robots
  • about:mozilla

And here are a few Firefox plug-ins to make your browsing a bit easier:
  • For those that prefer the Firefox 2 address bar, try the Oldbar plug-in.
  • Save a step of having to arrow or mouse down to the first item in the awesome bar, install the Enter Selects 3 plug-in.
  • Aging Tabs will continually darken the color of tabs the as time passes since you last viewed the particular tab.
  • Instead of reopening a closed tab using History, you can accomplish the same task with a button using Undo Closed Tabs Button plug-in.
  • Firefox Showcase let's you view thumbnails of all your tabs in a single window.

08 August, 2008

iTunes 7.7.1.11 and iPhone 2.0.1 spell disaster

Just a few nights back after work, following a fairly normal routine, I accepted the iTunes request for an update to 7.7. Upon completion and plugging in my iPhone, I was prompted to update the firmware to 2.0.1. Again, I accepted. During the middle of this process, iTunes crashed. Upon clearing the dialog boxes, iTunes restarted (my iPhone was still connected). Only this time, iTunes had nothing in it's library -- no music, no movies, no Podcasts -- nothing. And then looking at my iPhone, it was cycling between the Apple logo and an image of a USB plug and the iTunes logo -- my iPhone had become an iBrick.

Wow! In a bit of shock, I tried closing and restarting iTunes, and I tried shutting down and restarting my iPhone. Neither one helped. Here I went from a few casual, routine updates to a lot of unplanned for, and really unnecessary rebuilding. First, i had to figure out how to un-brick my phone.

The best I could come up with was some instructions posted on ...my first tech blog, where it sounds like Garry had a similar experience with his iPhone and the 2.0.1 firmware update -- though his process was describing how to recover for Vista. With this as a guide, I was able to un-brick the phone. I'll avoid the mis-fires, and just summarize the steps that actually got my iPhone working again.
  1. Remove the iPhone from the USB / iPhone cable and shut it off
    • Hold the Sleep/Wake (top) and Home buttons for about 10 seconds
  2. Restart your PC (turn it off first, do not just reboot)
  3. Plug the USB / iPhone cable directly into my PC (not through a hub)
  4. Create a new account in Windows XP (or Vista) with Administrator privileges
    • Begin with an account that has admin privileges
    • Go to the User Accounts applet in the Control Panel
    • Create a new user with admin privileges
  5. Completely logout (do not just switch users), and login to the new Admin user account
  6. Launch iTunes
  7. Reconnect your iPhone (eventually it should recognize your iPhone)
  8. Accept the prompt to recover your iPhone
  9. Once recovered, you can logoff and return to your normal user account, and delete the account used for the recovery
    [I am fairly certain creating the new account is suggested because iTunes must keep some configurations in the Registry. If you wanted to make the recovery within your standard account, you would have to know which Registry entries to modify and/or delete. The new account approach is easier for most computer users.]
There you have it. I now had a virgin iPhone with 2.0.1 firmware. Of course I still had to deal with iTunes, which no longer has any of my files or configurations.

I tried to find a good configuration file, but all I could find was the new, virgin one created. So I had to go the old fashion way, and rebuild my library -- File | Add Folder to Library. I had to do this twice, once for my video files and once for my audio files. The good news is that it will scan all sub-folders. Hours later, my 45 GB of audio, video, podcast, and App Store files were reloaded. With that complete, I recreated my Smart Playlists.

Now with iTunes back up-to-speed, I still had to reload my iPhone. With nearly filling my 8 GB phone with music, the sync took several more hours. I still have not fully completed the last step on the iPhone: reconfigure all the Apps, including login credentials. In particular, I am not having any success getting my Exchange mail to work, which was working before the disaster.

Finally, since I also have an iPod and an Apple TV, I still have to re-establish them with my reborn iTunes. that is going to take another 6 to 8 hours per device, as they heach have 40 GB to resync. Unfortunately, Apple forces you to dump the drives and reload the file, even though they are the same. It's just that the devices thinks that I am now using a different PC (since I lost iTunes) than what they were originally sync'd with.

Let me conclude with 2 lessons learned:
  1. No matter how well syncing works with your USB cable plugged through a USB hub, plug it directly into your computer (in particular if your are doing a firmware update).
  2. No matter whether required to or not, always reboot your PC after an iTunes update prior to reattaching any of your devices.
There you have it; way too many hours lost to technology mishaps. For all the praise Apple gets for making good products, I think they still have a long way to go when it comes to the iPhone and Windows applications.

03 August, 2008

Is your home network secure?

photo courtesy of http://www.conniq.com
I live in an apartment complex, and I have found that some folks leave their wireless routers open for anyone to join. In addition, for those that are "locked down," the default password was never changed. Why is this? Well networking computers used to be a difficult task, but with today's advanced routers and OSs, it's easy to setup your own network -- and cheap too.

You can go down to your favorite "big box" retailer and for less than $50 pick up a fast wireless router. If you already have cable Internet access, just plug-in the router, and it works (DSL requires some configuration). Unfortunately for the non-geek crowd, they are leaving themselves open to anyone who wants to access their network and the computers that are connected to it.

"How?" you might ask. First, go to Google and search on "router default passwords" and click on "I'm Feeling Lucky" (or click on "Google Search" and then click on one of the many search results). You will be taken to a site with default passwords for routers. So for folks who just plugged their router in (or who even added network security, but did not changed their default password), their system is open for anyone to use, because all the default usernames and passwords are easy to find in one place. (The usernames and passwords are also in your user manuals, so if they were not all in one place, a simple visit to the manufacturer's website would reveal them too.)

In addition to now giving anyone the ability to configure your router to their liking, it can get worse. Take for example the files and folders you shared on your computer for your family to access, now that you have a home network. Now since anyone who can get on your network can see these, you have shared them with the entire world. Perhaps you haven't shared any files or folders or you have required a password to access them. Still, that may not be enough.

Most users of Windows XP do not realize that it comes shipped with a default administrator username and password, too, therefore it has never changed either. Well once someone has breached (err accessed) your home network, it doesn't take much more effort to access your Windows XP computer. For example, I was able to learn my neighbors favorite music and see photos of their friends and family by using this technique. (I didn't look further, really I didn't -- I just wanted to prove that this is a problem.)

To recap, here's what you want to make sure you do when setting up your home network:
  1. Change the default username and password on your router.
  2. Change the default username and password for your OS (here's instructions for Windows XP).
  3. Secure your wireless connection with WPA (or WPA2).
  4. Only share unsecure files and folders that are okay for anyone to access. Require a login for sensative files.
  5. Cook your geeky brother-in-law a nice dinner for all his hard work.
On a related note, I recently found a video podcast, Lab Rats, that in some early episodes included information on home networks. See episode 6 and episode 7 to learn how to setup the network and episode 1 on selecting the right security protocol (hint: use WPA). Also episode 65, Home Network Basics, covers some of the available technologies. I had searched for a comprehensive guide for setting up a home network to link to, but I came up short -- they seem to be either too simple (e.g. click here, click here; nothing on security) or too complex (i.e. more than the average person needs to know). Perhaps I'll get ambitious and put something together myself. In the mean time, let me know if you have questions.