Networks have made leaps and bounds over the last few years. Not too long ago, it used to be a real workout to run cabling, set up routers, share a dial-up Internet connection, and share folders and printers[md]even on a small network. Fast-forward to today. Wireless networks, Windows, and broadband connections enable just about anyone to set up a secure network with minimal fuss. Here are four tips and tricks that the pros use and are a must for any small network.
Identity theft. War driving. Spyware. The list of security threats goes on and on. As more and more threats to computer security develop, additional layers of security are required. Make sure each computer on your network has the following areas covered:
- Operating system updates
- Network access protection
Many companies offer free downloads of robust applications. For anti-spyware, I recommend Windows Defender. It's free, powerful, and quickly scans during down times so I usually don't even notice it running. AVG has free anti-virus software that rivals the best ones out there. It updates quickly, scans regularly, and does a great job finding viruses. Windows 7 has a nice message display area called the Action Center (Figure 1). The Action Center gives you a status on each of these critical points and lets you know where there is a vulnerability. Security should be the #1 priority as you plan and create your network.
Stop burning CDs and put down the jump drive. Your local network is a great way to move data. Try the public folders first. In Vista and Windows 7, by default, these are available to all users on the network and are a fast, easy way to share data. You can simply place a file in your own Public folder and just like that it is available to anyone on your network (if the features are enabled).
Vista introduced the Network and Sharing Center. This graphically displays for you the entire layout of your network and, with the help of a Network Map, displays all the devices you are connected to. With one click, you can turn on File and Printer sharing, Public folder sharing, and streaming media. This provides you with a basic level of security on the network.
An upgrade to this is a new feature, HomeGroups, which is found only in Windows 7 (Figure 2). Homegroups let you organize your data into libraries and selectively share it with other members of your HomeGroup. A menu option in Windows Explorer lets you click on a file and share it with anyone in your HomeGroup. Just type a password once and your networked machines have constant access to your libraries.
If you want just a big place on the network to dump all your data and share it, you can set up an external hard drive on one computer and share it to the entire network. Everyone can access the data on it and there's no passing around files. Minimal security, easy accessibility.
If you start using any of these sharing techniques, that means it's time for one thing: Backup.
The words backup and procrastination seem to go hand in hand. "I'll get to it later" is the prevailing thought. So how long does it take to set up a backup plan? Less than 10 minutes. Let me ask you this: Is your data more valuable than 10 minutes worth of work? I think so. Here is a simple approach for your network: Set up one computer with two external hard drives. Use one hard drive for your data, one as a backup. Label one Backup and the other Data. Move all your important data and documents from your computers onto the Data drive. Now set your backup software to back up from the Data drive to the Backup drive. (Make sure you have enough space on the backup drive!) Windows 7 Backup and Restore does a great job, using an Aero-style Wizard to demystify the whole process (Figure 3). It works in the background; I never even know it is running. It does a full backup and then an incremental at intervals you set after that. Just make sure you keep saving your data to the data drive from now on. The best part about it is this: you can restore only one file at a time if you want. So if you put that critical .xls file on a jump drive and it gets lost, stolen, or deleted accidently, you can recover just the .xls file. You don't have to recover the entire backup.
#4: Utilize Existing Resources
When setting up a network, it's always so tempting to upgrade to network-ready hardware. Here are a few tricks to make virtually all your existing hardware network-ready. The first is this: Connect your device to the network and share it. Say you have a networked printer you love but it prints from only one computer that's upstairs and out of the way. Instead of going out and getting another printer, share the printer. Whether you run XP, Vista, or Windows 7, it doesn't matter. When you share the printer, every user on your network prints from it. Now you can print on a laptop from any room in the house to your shared printer on your wireless network.
Here another tip: If you have an older desktop with no built-in wireless, you can purchase an internal wireless card or a USB wireless adapter that's plug and play. Now your desktop can play on the network just like every other user's desktop.
Finally, if you want to use several USB devices without having to turn a host computer on, use a USB hub, such as a Belkin Network Hub (Figure 4). This device plugs into your wireless router and lets you share multiple USB devices without being plugged into your computer. Software installed on each computer on your network lets you see the status of each connected device, request use of it, or release use of it.
So there you have it. Maybe you have thought about some of these things in the past or maybe you just learned something that keeps you connected and keeps your data secure at the same time.