The Symantec Guide to Home Internet Security by Andrew Conry-Murray & Vincent Weafer

Reviewed by: Jack Reikel, November 2005
Published by: Symantec & Addison Wesley, ISBN: 0-321-35641-1
Requires: N/A
MSRP: US$19.99, CA$27.99

A friend and business colleague recently mentioned over lunch that his son and daughter had successfully 'tanked' their home network. Everything was polluted, down, inoperable and in need of serious purging. The problem? Viruses, trojans, backdoors, AdWare, etc., etc., all of which had been invited into the man's home network by unthinking, careless or uninformed activities online. The surprising part of the story is that the friend and colleague happens to be an experienced IT technician who simply wasn't paying enough attention to what was going on at home. The point I'm making is that a lapse in attention by even the most knowledgeable people can sometimes result in disaster. The more information and reminders we get about home Internet security, the better off we'll be.

The Symantec Guide to Home Internet Security is the latest reminder in a long line of factual guidebooks designed to teach us how to secure our home networks against the inevitable onslaught of poisons lurking on the Internet. Authors Conry-Murray & Weafer have taken a no-nonsense approach to the subject, presenting factual, non-conversational explanations and instructions using concise language. There is a minimum of philosophy in the book. The emphasis is on solid advice and instructions on the manner in which attacks, viruses and exploits get at or enter your computer and network. Following the digestible description and explanation sections, the authors present the mechanics of primary defenses against the incursions of attacks and viruses, and conclude the instructional sections with guidance for the use of various defensive, firewall, antivirus, antispam and related products for Windows PCs.

As the authors looked toward the length of time that this book would remain viable and essentially useful to readers, they must have despaired somewhat. After all, while many new attacks by virus writers, scammers and spammers are merely variations on earlier exploits, there are still just enough new approaches to keep the security software and hardware makers nervous. As long as operating systems, browsers, e-mail clients and all manner of software remains slightly porous in the face of new exploits, and as long as people continue to succumb to the subject line blandishments of spam e-mail, the spammers, vandals and outright criminals will continue in their turn to have access to doorways in personal computers and home networks. At the outset of the book, Conry-Murray & Weafer describe the ways in which you are vulnerable. At the end of the book, the authors provide readers with a security checklist and a comprehensive list of Do's & Don't's. It's a positive and helpful way of bracketing the book and should suit the needs of a great many people.

The book offers acceptable, albeit brief coverage of a lately oft-neglected subject: cell phone and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) security. While general 802.11x wireless is certainly covered to some extent, cell phone and VoIP security advice and techniques still merit only a brief mention in most books of this type. The authors have done solid research on the subject and the advice they offer is reliable.

Cons: The book is ideal for relatively inexperienced home computer users, but intermediate users already aware of home computer and Internet security requirements will be able to skip large parts of the book. The authors emphasize the need for individuals to overcome their personal weaknesses—the points of failure in our own reactions and activities which sometimes allow security breaches—but I feel that the subject bears even more attention. I was also surprised at the lack of coverage for some of the best and least expensive security on the market for home computer users right now: hardware routers. The book deals with wireless routers and the corresponding need to secure the wireless part of a home network, but it doesn't provide any significant amount of information about the excellent basic firewall built into every wireless and non-wireless home router on the market today.

Pros: For novices, relative beginners and non-technical home computer users, this book provides a solid, easy to digest education and guide to securing your setup. The added benefits of cell phone, Bluetooth, VoIP and wireless security instructions should provide most readers with a much better Internet experience. Despite being a Symantec Press publication, each section of the book contains recommended software lists which include plenty of top quality, non-Symantec products. Symantec itself remains a strong center for computer security and antivirus research and development. The authors deal with their subject matter in an critically objective and helpful manner. At 222 pages, the book is an easy read. At US$20, it's inexpensive enough to justify an impulse purchase too, even if you're not yet fully convinced about the need for home computer and network security. The book should change your mind.

Comments? Questions? Qualms? Technical problems? Send an e-mail!





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