Beef up security
The only way to guarantee the security of your network is to barricade it from the outside world – and that means no internet and no email. But you needn't adopt such extreme tactics to keep your data reasonably safe.
The road to a secure home network begins with a hardware firewall. Most routers have one, but those built into some inexpensive routers rely on NAT (network address translation) rather than using SPI (stateful packet inspection) technology.
SPI's superior approach ensures that your PC receives only data it has specifically requested. Be sure you change your router's default password when you set it up and periodically thereafter.
Establish a second line of defence by turning on automatic Windows Updates and installing antivirus, antispyware and personal firewall software.
XP's Windows Firewall filters incoming data only, so don't rely on it. A bi-directional firewall such as those included in ZoneAlarm or Norton 360 will monitor and protect both incoming and outgoing information. Vista's firewall is bi-directional, but you have to configure outgoing filtering yourself.
Vista features Windows Defender antispyware but no antivirus app.
Keep things simple by using the same utilities on all your PCs – look for economical 'family packs'. Install them while signed in as an administrator. If you've got kids, use the parental controls found in many packages (and in Windows Vista). Keep your password secret. Remember, your network is only as secure as its weakest link.
For more information on network security, our sister site Techworld has a comprehensive network security resource page.