Networking Your Home Computers Made EasyTodd Wasserman
It wasn’t that long ago when most of us had only one computer in the family. These days, everyone has their own PC or laptop. And you may want to connect these computers to one another with a network in your home so that you can share photos, music, videos, printing and other functions. But first you need to be aware of security concerns and consider taking steps to protect personal, financial, or work-related files from your sometimes careless teens or other family members.
Most of you may already have a home network that connects your computers to the Internet. These networks are either cable-based or wireless. You can also use these networks to enable your computers to connect with one another so that you can -- for example -- allow your spouse, children, and other family members to print documents on the same printer or call up a file located on your downstairs computer while you're on the computer in your bedroom.
But there are some security issues you need to address before you decide to network computers and other devices in your home. These concerns include whether you are going to share hard drives, folders, files and peripheral devices (such as printers, scanners, fax machines) with all users on the network, or limit access of certain computers.
Here's how to decide whether networking your computers is right for you and how to protect yourself when doing so:
Benefits of Networking Your Computers
Networking your computers to each other is easy to do when you're setting up a wireless network that connects your computers to the Internet. After setting up your router, you simply right click on the wireless network icon on your desktop and follow instructions to connect the computers in your network.
Why should you network your home computers to each other? Here are several benefits:
Sharing files is easier. Sharing digital photos, music, and documents between computers is easier over a network than it is by making copies using floppy drives or Zip drives.
It can save disk space. All computers have hard drives and although they hold much more data than they used to, large files like videos can still eat up a lot of space. One way to maximize disk space is to network two or more computers together so that, say, an upstairs laptop can tap into the hard drive of the downstairs PC to access a video or music file.
Multiple computers can connect to the same printer. You can network your computers so that they can all connect to the same printer, scanner, fax machine or other device. If you opt for wireless networking, instead of having to physically connect a laptop to a printer with a cord, you can print even when you’re in another part of the house.
Securing Your Network
Unfortunately, accidentally putting embarrassing or sensitive information on a networked computer in your home that others in your family can see isn’t the only pitfall of such a setup. Studies have shown that only 10 percent of home wireless networks are adequately secured from outsiders. Home networks transmit the same way radios do and they send a signal across a neighborhood. So, if you don’t take steps to secure your home network, you leave yourself open to hacking. In worst case scenarios, a hacker can steal your identity or tap into your Internet connection to download illegal or copyrighted material, in which case you’d be legally liable.
The first step to securing your network is to change the default user name, password and identifier (SSID) on your router. “Usually, the first thing we do on a service call is go in and make sure we change as many of the defaults as possible,” says Derek Meister, a “double agent” for the Geek Squad, “because a majority will default to the brand name.” Meister recommends creating a password that is obscure enough to repel hackers but memorable enough so that it doesn’t necessarily need to be written down.
Setting Up Folders on Networked Computers
One issue to decide early on in the process of setting up a home network is whether to allow everyone on the network access to all data on each PC. One alternative to this set up is a network in which PCs share folders, but not hard drives. That is, users on each PC can earmark files that they want everyone in the house to access, but can still keep some off the network. Why go to the trouble? Parents might want to make sure information like Christmas shopping lists don’t reach the wrong prying eyes, or maybe you just want to secure tax forms and medical records from your kids or their friends who may be on the network at any given time.
Those folders are accessible via prompts on Microsoft Windows labeled “Network Neighborhood” or “My Network Places.” If you double-click on the computer icon under either heading, you will see all the shared folders.
Creating those folders is fairly simple. First open up My Computer or Windows Explorer. Next:
Click the right icon for the folder that you wish to share with the network and choose “Sharing” from the shortcut menu that appears.
Click the “Shared As” icon.
Name the shared folder.
On a Mac, the process is different, but fairly simple: Just go to the “System Preferences” heading under the Apple menu and click on the Network Setup Assistant, which will guide you through the process by identifying other Macs (and PCs) in the house that connect to the same router. If you have an older Mac (OS 10.4 and earlier) you can use a program called SharePoints to accomplish the same task.
Hiding Files From Prying Eyes
Another option is to set up a hidden share, that is, a folder on the network that you can get to but no else knows exists.
It’s worth noting that such folders would be accessible on your PC. It’s only on the network that they are “invisible.” Creating a hidden share is easy enough. Just follow the steps above, but make the last character of the folder’s name a dollar sign ($).
Aside from that, make sure the folder is on a drive that’s not being shared (a PC has several drives, which are named alphabetically -- a, b, c, d and so on). Choose a sub-folder of a folder that you are also not sharing. And give it an innocuous name (like “shopping list”) to avoid further scrutiny.
On a Mac, you can circumvent the need for hidden shares by using other features, such as file-sharing permissions and parental controls, says Ken Doyle, founder of Loquent, a Madison, Wis. technology firm. “A hidden folder would normally not be necessary as long as file-sharing permissions are set up correctly or if OS X's parental controls are used, for example, to prevent access to designated folders by children on a shared Mac,” Doyle says.
Networking computers in your home can provide many benefits, if you take the right precautions and address security concerns from the start.
Copyright (c) 2010 Studio One Networks. All rights reserved.