How do you protect a home network against a hacker's attack?
* Begin by following the instructions and employing any and all of the security abilities, including encryption features and creating custom identification names, that a manufacturer of a device or its software might already have included.
This is something you're probably not doing now because, as Detective Sgt. Art Martinez of the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, who works with React, an electronic crimes task force in California, put it: "If something's working, people don't want to mess with it. They set up DSL, get it to work, and don't want to touch the security features."
If you haven't implemented the security features and you've thrown out the manuals, the devices' manufacturers often have help available online.
* Wireless devices have a default identification name, or SSID, a code assigned by the manufacturer. Change the name and customize it, as you would a password, as well as any passwords used anywhere on your computer network.
* Change IDs and passwords frequently. Use a combination of letters and numbers, experts say, and don't use dictionary words. Hackers have vast dictionaries that scan computers for words or likely combinations. Update your operating system and your software frequently. Security patches are released routinely by manufacturers as vulnerabilities become known.
The received wisdom for years was that Apple's Mac computers were less vulnerable to attack, because with Macs less popular than PCs, it didn't pay for hackers to design viruses for Apple's operating system. With the advent and spread of the iPod and Apple's entry into the television market early next year, that could change. If peripheral devices like printers have security features, enable those too, because computers have been hacked into through them.
* If you are contemplating a sophisticated home network with features like remote control of lighting or temperature, or a home security system, hire a professional installer who has an accreditation with an association like the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association. And check with your Internet provider that you are using its security measures as well.
* Don't buy security packages through e-mail or unsolicited online offers. A typical security scam involves the arrival of an e-mail telling you that your computer has a security risk. It offers to sell you the fix to download, but is instead a Trojan horse of viruses or security risks. Sites that offer free software online are particularly high-risk places to visit, experts say.
* Use common sense about what needs to be automated or networked, experts say. A lot doesn't. A refrigerator that can't go online doesn't have the gleam of the future, but it's also safe as milk.