Telecommuters can get fast, easy access to security-related updates

Broadband Internet access has acquired a reputation for exposing home networks to security breaches. Many people consider the always-on connection to be a vulnerability because it gives an attacker unlimited time to find your systems and their weaknesses and a faster connection over which to abuse them. But the most serious attacks can come through any type of Internet connection, and in fact, a broadband connection can help you and your telecommuters protect your home network against those who create and spread computer viruses.

Consider the 2001 Nimda worm, which attacked client computers as well as servers. Long before the virus attack, Microsoft had released a series of patches and browser upgrades that could have protected users' systems, but many users hadn't applied the fixes. (I won't get into the specific patches that worked at that time, but regular visits to Microsoft's Security Web site at http://www.microsoft.com/security and the Microsoft Windows Update Web site at http://www.windowsupdate.com will keep you abreast of the most recent and relevant security updates. And be sure to sign up for Microsoft's free Product Security Notification service at http://www.microsoft.com/technet/security/bulletin/notify.asp so that you know when updates become available.)

So, why were so many people (many of whom knew better) caught with unpatched systems? Because downloading fixes and patching applications can be an onerous task. Many patches are large—for example, Windows 2000 Professional Service Pack 2 (SP2) is 10MB. A typical installation of Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 6.0 is 25MB but can vary from 11MB to 75MB. You can order CD-ROMs for some of these products, but that's not necessarily a convenient solution. Given that you need to apply the most important updates and that those updates can be immense, broadband is the only practical solution for acquiring the updates you need.

When you have broadband, a home network gives all your systems fast—and therefore practical—Internet access to the most recent updates. You can download the patches to one computer (your server, if you have one), then directly install them on each client from there. Even if all your systems aren't networked, you can still download the patches to one computer, then manually distribute them to your other machines through a CD-ROM or Iomega Zip disk (gone are the days when patches fit on a 3.5" disk). Of course, when your Internet connection is down, you can't get the patches. I always burn CD-ROMs for major patches such as Windows service packs so that I have them handy when I build a new system or rebuild an old one.

Another primary selling point of broadband is that the connection is always open: You don't need to dial to the Internet—you're always connected to it. (Some DSL providers, such as Verizon, require you to reconnect to their networks periodically, but you still aren't dialing and the operation is quick.) With an always-on connection, you can take advantage of the automatic update functionality that many products provide. For example, you can use Windows XP's Automatic Update feature to automatically download any important updates that Microsoft makes available. XP then asks you whether you want to install the updates. The newest versions of antivirus software and firewalls offer the same functionality for their definition files. Some of these products, such as Symantec's Norton AntiVirus 2002, automatically install as well as download the new definitions. Connecting a home network to your broadband connection lets you automatically update all your computers this way.

Some people like to blame Microsoft and other companies for their products' security problems, but you need to take responsibility for your systems' security. You need to run antivirus software, update it as often as possible, and keep abreast of security updates. Broadband and home networks are part of the problem, but they're also part of the solution. When you stay on your toes and take care of your systems' security, an always-on broadband connection's faster access to security-related updates is exactly what you need.