Having a secure home network can give you peace of mind and cut both risk and hassle. The main elements to achieving this are secure passwords, a firewall, and careful control about how other machines and users can access your files. When using a wireless network, the need for security is even stronger.
Using a suitable password is one the most important keys to a secure home network. It is particularly important to use a mixture of letters and numbers. This is because there are two main ways for a hacker's machine to automatically "guess" a password. One is known as a dictionary-based attack and simply involves trying every word from a dictionary. Using multiple words or including numbers makes a computer less vulnerable to such an attack.
The more advanced method for hacking is known a brute force attack. This involves simply trying every possible combination of letters and numbers, which takes much longer than with a dictionary-based attack. To counter this, there is a simple rule that the longer the password, the more difficult it is to crack. Between the different letters and numbers available, each additional character in a password makes it at least 36 times harder to crack. This soon adds up and can make the difference between a password being cracked in a few minutes or potentially taking years to be successful.
Another important point is to take great care about which files and folders you make available over a home network. Even with an apparently secure home network, it is safest to work on the basis that any file you share could possibly be accessed by somebody outside your home. You should set up your computer so that the default position is that no file or folder is shared unless you specifically allow it.
It's also particularly important to have a firewall in place. This can either be built into your operating system, built into your physical modem or router, or provided by a standalone application. A firewall aims to control which data is allowed in and out of your machine.
If you use wireless connections, it is even more important to have a secure home network. This is because a hacker can grab your data from the air rather than have to establish a wired connection. As well as accessing your data, a hacker could also use your connection to download material from the Internet. This could leave you with a large bill if you have a download cap, or could even get you into legal problems if the material is copyrighted.
To secure a wireless network, you should use the strongest level of encryption possible, which is known as WPA2. If this is unavailable you should choose WPA over the least secure option, WEP. It is absolutely vital to change the password from any default setting, as this will be the first thing a hacker tries.