Home Office Cable Modems: Ethernet or USB?

Working at Home

 I have a small business networking question. I recently disconnected my cable modem, PCs, and other devices to relocate the equipment, and while trying to put everything back together noticed my cable modem has both USB and Ethernet ports. I’m not really sure which one we were using — what’s the difference between them, and which one is best? 

 In almost all cases, you should use the cable modem’s Ethernet port rather than its USB port. A bit of background: back in the early days of cable modems—this would be the late 1990s and early 2000s– home networks were rare, and so were PCs with Ethernet ports. USB ports on cable modems are essentially a vestige from this era, when most people had but a single PC they needed to connect to the Internet, and USB was the simplest way to do it.  

Now fast forward to the present, where the typical household wants to connect multiple PCs and myriad other devices to the Internet as part of a wired and/or wireless home network. In this modern scenario you need to connect your cable modem to a router rather than an individual PC, and thus Ethernet is the only way to go. In fact, the newest crop of cable modems generally doesn’t include a USB port. My guess is that you were using the cable modem’s Ethernet port and that you have a router somewhere in your pile of equipment.

So bottom line — the only time it makes sense to use a cable modem’s USB port is when you have a solitary PC that lacks Ethernet.

 I decided to beef up my computer security and stop using things such as my child’s or pet’s name as passwords for websites, etc. How do I go about creating a secure password that I’ll be able to remember when needed?

 Good question. Unfortunately, password security can be a bit of a Catch 22, because the same characteristics that make passwords secure also make them a challenge to remember.

Here are a few general guidelines for creating secure passwords:

  • Passwords SHOULD be at least 8 characters long, and longer if possible
  • Passwords SHOULD NOT contain proper names or dictionary words– in English or any other language (this includes names or words spelled backwards)
  • Password SHOULD include a combination of mixed-case (UPPER and lower) letters, numbers and punctuation marks or other symbols

A great way to create a long and complex password that’s relatively easy to remember is to base it on a phrase that’s meaningful to you. For example, the taking the first letter in each word of the phrase “I love to eat fish tacos on Friday nights” yields the password IlteftoFn.

That’s a decent password to start with, but make a couple of key character substitutions, such as the number “2” in lieu of the word “to” and perhaps a plus sign in place of the “t” in tacos (giving you ^3IlteftoFn4^+oFn) and you’ve got yourself a pretty strong password that you shouldn’t have too much trouble remembering. (Until you commit it to gray matter, it’s OK to write your password down, just keep the paper secure—this means no sticky notes on the monitor.)

One more thing — these days it’s not a good idea to use the same password—even a secure one — on lots of different sites. This is because if a hacker gets a hold of your password by hacking any of the many sites you use it at–this can and does happen—it leaves all your other accounts vulnerable, particularly if they share a username (and since usernames are often your e-mail address, this is likely to be the case).

You can minimize this risk by using password management software/services such as Roboform and LastPass, which will let you create unique passwords for each individual site (or create them for you) and log you in automatically, leaving you with only one “master” password to remember.  

Article updated by Joseph Moran, a veteran technology writer and co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7, from Friends of ED.

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