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Modem, on or off? It varies by situation


Q I recently upgraded from dial-up to high-speed DSL. One question that I have concerns the DSL modem. I always shut down my computer at the end of the day. Should I also turn off my modem or leave it on? Whatever the answer, why is that the correct answer?

Norma I.

A: This question is one that has been around just about as long as home broadband connections. DSL connections, like all broadband connections, were meant to always be connected.

There are three prevailing opinions to this question. One is that you should turn it off. Another is that you should leave it on, and the final is that it doesn’t matter either way.

Those who say you should turn the modem off often cite potential security risks as the primary reason. It is argued that leaving your modem on opens the door for people to use your Internet signal to cause mischief online or on your home network.

I can see the truth in this, but it is built on several assumptions. One assumption is that every home network is wireless. Some home networks are still hard-wired or networked through the electrical outlets. There is also the assumption that all home wireless networks are open and do not have the requisite security in place to prevent spurious intrusions.

Those who support leaving the modem on use many of the previous viewpoints to strengthen their own position. They also expound the notion that the number of people who are technically proficient enough the circumvent most home network security measures is rather low. If someone who falls into that category wants to get into your network and cause havoc, then you are limited in your options for securing your computer.

The third position uses combined and ancillary retorts to support their viewpoint. Some of the circumstantial information factored in includes the location of the modem, network, the computers, the manner in which the computers are used and the number and level of the users who have access to the computers.

These factors serve to paint a broader picture that can lend itself to a more situation-specific solution. If the computer connected to the modem is in the middle of nowhere and is used only for updating a blog or reading news links from Google, then it really doesn’t matter if you turn the modem off or leave it on.

Personally, I am of the last school of thought. It is a situational call and you must weigh as many factors as possible. If your modem broadcasts wirelessly, is unsecure, and you are concerned about people picking up your signal and using your wireless to go online, then you may want to turn it off. Otherwise, there may be no harm in leaving it on.

The correct answer depends on your specific situation.

Quincey Hobbs is a team member at the University of Arizona’s Center for Computing and Information Technology and an instructor at Pima Community College. Send questions to quinceyresponds @yahoo.com.

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