Networking was once something that would only be talked about by IT Professionals and Network Engineers. Today networking is something that every computer user with an internet connection should know about to some degree. Most households have more than one computer, this is often when a router is purchased. The reason is obvious, more computers that need internet access. A router should really be purchased even if there is only one computer on your network. This is becoming the norm as most ISPs now will sell you a modem that has a router built in. The benefits of using a router extend way beyond that of just sharing an internet connection. Routers also make it easier to share files, share a printer, and most importantly increase your security in a quick and easy way.
As I mentioned above routers are often overlooked for their benefits beyond connection sharing. It’s obvious that all of your computers are connected now so it’s a trivial matter to set up home network sharing in your operating system of choice. Network sharing can be used for backup, sharing a music or video library, and extra data storage. Printer sharing can also be done by either enabling it in your operating system or connecting your printer directly to the router (this is a feature that is available in higher-end consumer models). Finally comes security, by default all routers implement NAT (Network Address Translation). NAT in effect hides the computers on the network and makes your IP address look like a dumb box on the net. While this adds a significant layer of security to your network it can also cause problems which I’ll look at later on. The benefit of a router can be overwhelming to the point where the security of the network can be put in jeopardy.
Router security is the most important aspect of setting up the device and most often overlooked. Linksys routers now come with configuration disks that guide you in configuring security options. In the early days of consumer routers users were left to tend to their own security. This meant that often a router would sit with the same default password and access point name. Even with Linksys configuration disks it is still possible for this to happen. With this said it’s imperative to either run the configuration wizard or set up your security manually. If you have no choice or are forced to do the latter we are going to go over a few security related points:
As mentioned before the very idea of NAT is what makes a network secure. This can also cause some problems in regards to specialized services. Applications such as remote desktop, web servers, game servers, and some games can need specific ports open. These applications may not utilize UPnP, so we have to manually open the flood gates to allow the packets through. Port forwarding essentially listens for packets directed at your IP address then forwards them to that IP address, thus making it so outside sources don’t know that you specifically exist behind the router. Consumer routers typically allow for between 10 and 20 ports to be forwarded. This can be increased by applying a custom firmware such as DD-WRT, though not recommended for beginners. The other choice for opening up the entire range of ports is by enabling DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) on a specific IP address. DMZ is not recommended for a computer, DMZ would be more suitable for a game console. I consider myself a sophisticated user and I only have 3 ports forwarded for our entire network of 4 computers, a Wii, and Xbox 360. I use DMZ on the Wii and Xbox 360 while only opening ports on the computers where necessary.
Tip: If your router only has support for one DMZ host simply forward all ports (1-65535) to the desired IP address.
This is considered to be the basics of basics in regards to networking and network security. There are many places we can go from here including:
Send me a pm on the forums if you have any questions or if you want to suggest where you would like to see a possible networking series of articles go.