The National CyberSecurity Awareness Month (NCSAM) website will highlight a different theme for every week of October 2018 to focus attention on the important issues everyone must be aware of to protect themselves, their information, and their online safety. As part of the NCSAM celebration, our Get Schooled blog will align with each of these themes each week during this important month.
“There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza…”
With all the ways the Internet connects to our homes and lives of our families, it becomes important to always think of our homes as that bucket which always seems to have a hole.
At one time, the primary concern was to equip the family computer with the right protection appropriate to the ages of the children in the home. This included commercially available firewalls plus anti-virus, anti-malware, and anti-spam protection. For those homes with younger, more impressionable children web filtering and website-blocking software was also deployed to control the sites those young users could access.
All Roads Lead to the Internet
Today’s home computer is only one of the many devices that connect the home to the internet.
Most youngsters reach an age where they are trusted by their parents to have their own mobile phone which is, of course, connected to the internet. Just about all adults living the home are similarly connected through their mobile devices, including smartphones, tablets, laptops, and hybrids.
In many cases, the family television set is no longer just a receiver for on-air programming or even cable-delivered content. Many Smart TVs are connected directly to the internet themselves, or through internet-enabled devices such as the Amazon Fire Stick, Google Chromecast, Roku, Microsoft Xbox, Sony PlayStation or many others. What many users may not realize is that the internet connection to these entertainment devices are just the same as internet connections to computers.
In the age of Artificial Intelligence (AI) there are a whole platoon of other home residents who are constantly listening to us and conveying what we say across the internet to their platform systems. We routinely speak to Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant, Apple’s Siri, Samsung’s Bixby, Microsoft’s Cortana and others. In many cases, they talk back. This requires connection to services delivered over the internet.
Many of our home appliances have now been connected to the internet. Our refrigerators track what we put into and take out of them, suggesting recipes based on what we currently have and providing a host of other services. Our cooktops, stoves, ovens, washing machines, home stereos, even the home’s lighting, fans, thermostats, locks, garage doors, sprinklers, smoke detectors and alarm sensors are all leveraging the internet to improve our lives.
Now, we even connect to the internet in our cars. Beyond GPS, we use entertainment and information services to make travel easier, but may open up more doors to exposure along the way. In fact, each of these devices, improperly installed, protected, and maintained, represent potential points of exposure to internet invaders.
The Most Vulnerable Thing in Your Home Network
When asked what they think is the most vulnerable point in their home network, many would point to their modem/router. While this is a logical point to consider, the router actually provides substantial protection. It only uses one public IP address which is issued by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and changes periodically. Behind that one IP address is a router service called Network Address Translation (NAT) which provides remarkable protection.
Literally every NAT IP address has the format 192.168.0.nnn where nnn is a number between 0 and 255. The router itself is typically 192.168.0.1. Your router in your house uses these numbers. Your friend’s router, your Mom’s router, everybody’s router uses these same numbers. Because they are hidden behind your router’s public IP address, they remain unique inside your network.
When a message arrives, and is permitted past the firewall, it is determined who it is meant for and directed to that user’s assigned 192.168.0.nnn address.
Were that message an attempt to exploit you, it would not know your IP address and therefore is incapable of attacking you. This is a powerful second level of protection behind your firewall.
So if it’s not the router, what is the most vulnerable point in your home network?
Yes, it’s you, the user, or a member of your family. The majority of attacks these days use “social engineering” in an attempt to get you to take an action that you’ll regret. Click a link. Open an attachment. They masquerade as coming from someone recognizable, but if you examine their URL carefully you’ll see that characters have been substituted, such as a 1 (one) replacing the letter l (lower-case L) creating a completely different URL. These are commonly referred to as “phishing” attacks. Because the attacker then turns around and locks you out of your own data, offering to allow you back in only after you pay them, this practice is called “ransomware.”
It is all too easy to be fooled by a “phishing” attack. All users must be constantly on guard to avoid falling into a trap.
Where Do I Begin?
New Horizons Computer Learning Centers offer many courses that will help you protect your home and family. A visit to our website, or a call to one of our New Horizons counselors, will open up new doors to safe computing for you.