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Are Home Firewalls Really That Important?

In the latter stages of the 2nd decade of the 21st century, our homes have not really changed that much from those of our parents. Aside from a new predominance of cheap throwaway furniture, todays house is largely similar to that of the 70’s. Similar, that is, until we change our point of view, examining not the visible spectrum but rather the electromagnetic spectrum. working-from-home_colorThe past 20 years have seen an explosion in our use of the airwaves and that change has not stopped at our front doors. Todays homes are filled with an argosy of gadgets, many of which independently communicate without any intervention from their human hosts. Indeed, whilst the home of the 70’s was equipped with two main communications channels, namely the desktop telephone and the front door, the contemporary home has been unrecognisably changed by the communications revolution. It is the network which has been the real change across the years, allowing us to reach out in countless different ways but also, quietly, allowing the world to reach in.

And reach in it does.

The latest Government Security Breaches Survey found that nearly three-quarters (74%) of small organisations reported a security breach in the last year; an increase on the 2013 and 2014 survey. SMEs are now being pinpointed by digital attackers. If SMEs are being targeted, rest assured that home networks are too.

So how do we protect our homes? Well, the picture isn’t as bleak as it may seem. Most ISP’s provide equipment which has a built in firewall. Firewalls form your home network’s primary defence against online security risks, and can therefore considerably boost your peace of mind concerning your network security. Without any human intervention, the stock firewall set at its default settings is pretty effective. It basically blocks everything from the outside unless it was requested by something on the inside. So far so good you may think, and you’d be right, however its that sticky part about human intervention that hides the real danger. People feel the need to change their firewall settings. Not only that, they download dodgy code, click dodgy links and generally just circumvent all that good security the firewall was designed to provide. Before long the network security is full of holes and the world starts reaching in.

Home networks are becoming ever more complex and the paucity of good quality consumer grade network equipment speaks volumes about our inevitable prioritisation of cost above just about anything. ocean-digital-home-upnp-dlna-font-b-network-b-font-font-b-device-b-font-newsIn their race to the bottom, home network equipment manufacturers need to keep their costs to the bare minimum. They do this by using free vulnerable operating systems which have no simple mechanism to ever be upgraded or more importantly fixed. Theres no getting around the fact that our homes are full of and will continue for quite some time to be full of network equipment that is of a shockingly low security standard.

This brings us nicely back to the question of the home firewall. Yes, generic router firewalls are great out of the box but they only look outwards and never inwards. It is becoming increasingly apparent that home networks which are basically the same as small business networks require better. Low cost solutions do exist and they are effective. For example for those with a spare PC hanging around, the option exists to install a free software firewall (e.g. Sophos XG Home Edition) but its far from an elegant solution to keep a dedicated PC powered up 24×7 and it is one which few consumers would countenance. Other dedicated hardware solutions exist of course but they can be expensive and are in all likelihood, business solutions. Sadly, for the consumer, the choice to manage a firewall in the home is still the preserve of the nerdy computer enthusiast who, ironically is probably less vulnerable than most.

legislationFor now the discussion remains unresolved. It is unlikely that the consumer will find it in their gift to look beyond cost to something that keeps their online lives secure enough and it will likely therefore fall to some broader agency to act. Whether that agency turns out to be the government, the banks who perhaps have most to lose, or some other combination of private sector collaborators remains to be seen. One thing however is certain. The problem is going to get worse before it gets better and it will probably take some form of paradigm shift in public perception for the motivation to be found.

Lets hope the cause of the paradigm shift isn’t too painful.

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