Network Security guide for the home or small business network – Part 18 – What about Dialup Users?



So, most everything so far has been targetted to high speed internet users or business networks. That means if I use dialup I’m safe. Wrong. For starters, in many ways dialup internet is LESS of a risk than high speed broadband for two main reasons. First, high speed/broadband connections are typically on ALL the time. Which raises your exposure. Like the security through obscurity concept though… just because dialup is only online a limited amount of time, that shouldn’t be the only reliance on protecting your system.


The second reason broadband users are typically at greater risk is because they tend to have the same address on the network for longer periods of time (permanently in some cases, or at least days, weeks or even months.) With dialup you get a different network address each time you connect. This sounds again like the security through obscurity? In a sense it is. You are less likely to be specifically targetted, but there are still risks.

In some ways I think there are greater risks for dialup users for a few reasons. First, dialup users are less likely to have current windows updates, so they are more likely to have more well known security vulnerabilities. Second, dialup users are less likely to have up to date antivirus and for that reason it’s more likely that a virus can gain a foothold on a dialup system. Third, dialup users are less likely to have alternative software available (web browsers/email clients) to further lower the risk of infection through those avenues.

That much said, with dialup some infections are more obvious. Spyware can slow the connection down from a small pipe to a swizel stick… viruses (and spyware/adware) can prompt the machine to dialup constantly to retrieve ads or send out viruses/spam.

The main problem is connection speed. On many dialup machines I would expect several hours to pull in all windows updates for a dialup machine (perhaps overnight.) I remember one workstation in particular that was a brand new install. Symantec antivirus (on a brand new machine) spent several hours on it’s own updating. (It was still updating when I left with a couple hours to go.)

So, while your exposure (length of time at risk and different addresses) may decrease your risk as a dialup user, the fact you most likely aren’t running all security updates/antivirus updates can increase the risk. If you’re one of those folks insistent on a personal firewall (don’t know of any hardware firewalls that do dialup anymore) with all windows updates and up-to-date antivirus running an alternative browser “just in case” you may have one of the tighter network based setups out there. The only real areas left to address is how cautious you the user is with inbound emails that may be suspect (click on this link) and cautious you are in your web browsing.

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