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A look at Home Network Routers
By James Wise
posted April 27, 2009
TECH TIPS – Recently, we talked about how
to secure a network router. Today, we’re taking a step back to talk
about what routers do, how beneficial they are, how to add one, and how
to test your network security. If you have more than one computer in
your house, a router can make networking them very easy. With a
network, you can share files, printers, and an Internet connection.
Even if you only have one computer, adding a router can help secure
your computer from attack over the Internet.
A router is basically the central device in a network. For example, if
you have three computers and you want to access files on one computer
from the other two, you could run a wire from each computer to a
router. Many routers also support a wireless connection to a computer.
You can establish a network in other ways as well but routers usually
make the process easier and offer extra functionality.
If you have a printer, you can share that printer with your PCs as
well. If the printer is a “network printer” it can be added to the
network like a computer and then “installed” on each computer. If the
printer is directly connected to a computer, you can share it and set
it up on the other computers. Then (as long as the computer the printer
is attached to is turned on), you can print from another computer to
Most routers can also accept an Internet connection. Routers offer a
few key advantages related to an Internet connection:
(1) Security: A router provides a hardware “firewall” between
your computer(s) and the Internet. A firewall blocks people outside
your local network from accessing your computer. There are hardware and
software firewalls. A router provides a hardware firewall for maximum
protection. Software firewalls are also good (and can be used in
addition to a router) but a hardware firewall gives you an extra layer
(2) Routers make sharing a connection very easy: While it is
technically possible to share a connection in other ways (like Windows
Internet Connection Sharing or Proxy Server software), a router tends
to be easier and doesn’t require the PC with the Internet connection to
be turned on.
(3) Parental Control: Some routers also support things like
content filtering (blocking material that may not be appropriate for
children) and scheduling (for restricting when computers can use the
You can even have things like video cameras connected to your router
for security purposes when you are home OR away (just be sure remote
access to them is secure).
Okay, I want a router. Which one should I buy? There are a few key
points to consider here.
Wired or Wireless
Unless all your computers are close to one another (or your home is
wired for a network), you probably want a wireless router (as most
are). Note that wired connections are faster but wireless connections
are generally good enough. With a wireless router, there are several
different network types (B, G, and N for example). N is the fastest
(typically twice as fast as G) but not many computers have “N” capable
network cards. Generally, I would suggest “N” or “G” (if your computers
don’t have G and N is more expensive). Note that routers are “downward
compatible” so an N router would work for N, G, or B (all of which are
faster than Internet connections). If you go with a wireless router, I
would try to make sure it supports WPA encryption (see http://www.edgefielddaily.com/wisetechtips042009.html)
but I think most do.
Internet Connection Type
If you use a cable or dsl “modem” and it has a network port, almost any
router will work. Just look for something like “Broadband” on the label
or an Internet/WAN network port on the back of it. If you have a
cellular Internet connection, there are some router options for you as
well such as CradlePoint Routers
the April 2 column). There used to be a few router options for
dial-up users but I’m afraid those may not be around anymore (perhaps
Routers can have a wide range of options from available connections to
various software features. If you are interested in certain features
(like parental control for example), keep that in mind when making your
One thing to remember is that your computers also have to support a
network connection. Most computers come with a network card for wired
connections and many include wireless cards. Still, you want to
consider this. Generally, this is an easy to add option (using network
adapters connected to a USB port).
I’ve got a router, now
Most routers come with pretty good documentation to make the process
simple. Unfortunately, the actions required will differ from router to
router so no one set of instructions can be published here for
everyone. To start with, think about where you want to place your
router. Normally it will need to be near your cable/dsl modem if you
are sharing an Internet connection. If it is wireless, you should also
try to place it in a location where you can reach it from everywhere
(i.e. towards the center of the home).
Also make sure you secure your router (see last
week's column). I realized
after the fact that I should have mentioned two more things there:
1) If you see an option for “Universal Plug and Play”
(or UPnP), I would suggest disabling this.
2) If you see an option for “WAN Management”, I would
Lastly, make sure the firewall is turned on within the router setup
(though I think this is the default for most or all routers).
If you need assistance setting up a router, please email me
(firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll try to help.
Is my network secure?
One quick and easy way to see if your network is secure from intrusion
attempts is to use the free “ShieldsUp” check from
http://www.grc.com/default.htm. After scrolling down and clicking
“ShieldsUp” (under “hot spots”), click on the proceed button, then
click “all service ports” for a complete scan. You want to see a
“passed” status when the scan completes.
You could try this before installing the router as well to check your
current security (and possibly compare this to after installing the
Note that I might still recommend running a software firewall on your
computer. Windows XP includes one (under control panel). This is pretty
good and I would definitely use it if you were using a public access
point (like a hotel). However, the XP firewall is probably not really
helpful if you have a router with a firewall. Neither a router’s
firewall nor the Windows XP firewall would block malicious software on
your computer from getting out of your network (only inbound
connections are blocked). There are options for this that we might talk
about in future articles. Software firewalls can be intrusive though
and might alert you to problems which aren’t really problems. Also,
generally if you get to the point where you have malicious software,
you’ve got bigger problems than whether or not you have an outbound
firewall. Still, a software firewall with outbound protection is
probably a good idea and we’ll talk about that in the future.
Do you have a tech question you would like answered or a program you
would like to recommend? Email me at email@example.com.
For computer questions, please include your operating system version
(e.g. Windows Vista) and sorry, but I don’t do Macs.
Disclaimer: Software, tips, and links provided are used at the risk of
© Copyright 2009
original material is property of
EdgefieldDaily.com and cannot be reproduced, rewritten or redistributed
without the expressed written permission of Edgefield Daily.com
JAM Straight Customs
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