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Protecting Home Computing Environments

What's the worst incident that ever happened to one or more of your home systems? My company has a well-protected system, but I argue that a home system isn't susceptible to the same problems as a system at the workplace. Am I correct?

Ordinarily, I'd agree with you, but let me tell you about an incident that happened to my home system that was as bad as most anything that ever happens at workplace offices. I have a small home network that I use for all my computing activities. I never worried about attacks via the Internet. I knew they were possible, but who would care? I use standard antispyware and antivirus software and considered them more than adequate. I also never worried about setting up redundant systems elsewhere because I never thought them necessary, and I didn't want to spend the money to set them up. Little did I realize the potential problems I could face.

A major power surge struck my home and created havoc on my network. My systems took a major beating. I had a notebook that lost its motherboard and display and would no longer boot. I had a server that was damaged, but I always assumed servers could be easily fixed. In fact, all my systems had some type of problem. Indeed, problems are still surfacing, particularly with power supplies. The notebook was under warranty and the vendor repaired it. I took care of the rest of the systems because I had built them. Suffice it to say, it took some time to get everything back to normal, but I forgot the fundamental rule of problems such as these: Damage is rarely restricted to what's obvious and can show up later. The obvious problems were reasonably easy (although expensive) to take care of; fortunately, I didn't have to pay myself labor. Then when I thought everything was back to normal, the server (which has all my data files) died because of a bad power supply. I'm still working on getting it up and running.

So how could I have avoided this disaster? The small portable surge protectors you buy at the local electronics store aren't worth much if large power spikes come across the line. However, most UPS units have built in surge protection that can protect you from large power fluctuations. (You can learn more about UPSs in "Essential UPS," May 2006, InstantDoc ID 49708.) You can also ask the power company to place a surge protector on a house to prevent surge events from occurring, which is what I did.

And how many home users are prepared for the damage and data loss that power surges can cause? Few, I'd be willing to bet. Most business environments maintain up-to-date redundancy, but few home environments do even though many people use their home systems for work. I learned the hard way that the same vulnerabilities exist in any work environment. I've placed a tape backup unit at home, and I store the tapes in a safety deposit box at a local bank. It might sound like overkill, but it allows easy and inexpensive off-site data storage, and I now think I'm protected from similar disasters. It's easy to restore data files when you've thought ahead a bit.

So the answer to your question is that problems can happen anywhere and anytime. Certain problems might not be as common at home as they are at a company office, but disasters can and do occur at either place. Think through the issues, plan ahead, and remember the old adage: Always try to minimize the maximum regret (Wald's Minimax hypothesis).
—Bob Chronister

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