How to Protect My Computer
Your computer serves as a gateway to tools, information, games, networking, and more. Keeping your computer healthy and secure helps protect your investment and you. This page provides an overview of the issues involved with protecting your computer's software and hardware.
Chances are you've heard of someone who had their laptop, cell phone, or PDA stolen. FBI statistics report that "one out of every 10 notebook computers will be stolen within the first 12 months of purchase, and 90% of them will never be recovered." If you're going to spend your hard-earned cash on a computer or other device, it's worth your while to take some precautions to ensure the safety of the physical hardware and software, including your saved files.
- Lock it up. Whether you're at home, in a dorm, in an office, or sitting in a coffee shop, use a security device, such as a laptop security cable, and lock the screen to deter theft. When you leave your office or dorm, put the laptop in a secure spot like a locked cabinet or desk. You can also install lojak software on your laptop to help recover the device.
- Don't leave your laptop in a car. These are easy targets for identity thieves. It is better to take your laptop with you. If you must leave it in the car, hide it.
- Protect the data as well. You want to make sure that the personal and possibly sensitive information on your computer is properly protected. In the event of a physical theft, this will hinder misuse of your personal information and stop identity theft. Use encryption.
- Never keep your passwords with your laptop. It's akin to leaving your keys in your car.
- Keep a record of the make, model, serial number and hardware network/MAC address of each piece of equipment - laptop, desktop computer, printer, scanner, and other peripherals - in a separate place for your own records and so you can report them to police and your insurance company if they are stolen. That advice applies to other small devices such as cell phones and PDAs as well. To get help in determining your computer's MAC (Media Access Control) address, which is a unique identifier for any device on a network, contact the IT Service Desk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 688-HELP(4357).
Malware, short for "malicious software," is a program or file designed to be disruptive, invasive, and harmful to your computer. Types of malware include viruses, spyware, adware, and worms.
- Spyware or adware secretly monitor your online activities or control your computer use. These types of malware can collect your personal and confidential information, monitor online shopping, or record your keystrokes, leading to identity theft.
- Know the signs that your computer has been infected. For example, slow performance, increased number of pop-up ads, random error messages, or an unexpected change in your browser's homepage are all clues you picked up spyware.
- Keep your security software active and up-to-date. Security software only detects new threats when you keep it current. You also want to be sure to run regular scans on your computer. Your anti-virus and anti-spyware software aren't much use if they remain unused. Often, you can set these programs to run automatically. Updating your browser or Operating System software is also useful.
- Don't open or execute unexpected attachments. A computer virus transmitted in an e-mail or Instant Message attachment cannot inflict damage unless you open or execute the file. Many viruses send out infected messages without the user of the infected computer knowing, and some forge the "From" address so that it appears to come from someone other than the actual user.
A password, used in combination with your user name, helps you authenticate into a system. Authentication is a process of determining your user identity - that you are really you. Just like you protect your ATM PIN, you need to protect your password. Creating a strong password is one simple step you can take to protect your computer and accounts from unauthorized use.
- Most robust passwords are at least eight (8) characters long and include a mixture of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and non-alpha numeric characters (+%*#@$).
- Avoid using consecutive numbers, dictionary words or personal information, such as your date of birth or mother's maiden name, which can be easy for hackers to guess or locate.
- In addition, change your password frequently to put up an added layer of protection.
- Lock your computer when you step away. Password protecting your computer helps make sure that you are the only one accessing your accounts.
- Don't send your user name and password over an unsecure connection or display your password in the open. This is akin to sharing your ATM PIN with a stranger. By openly displaying your password, you are helping identity thieves access your personal information or the university's institutional data.
For tips on creating strong passwords and how to keep them safe, go to the Passwords page.
When you connect to the Internet, you are opening a two-way connection - you can access information and you are opening the door for others to connect to your computer. It is for this reason that we have firewalls. A firewall acts as a barrier around your computer or network, blocking or filtering certain traffic while allowing other "safe" traffic to pass through.
- There are two types of firewalls: Hardware (network) firewalls and Personal (software or host-based) firewalls. The best personal firewalls keep threats from getting onto your computer and they keep threats already on your computer from getting out and infecting others.
- With high-speed connections such as Ethernet, cable modem or DSL, your computer is connected to the Internet whenever it is turned on, not just when you're actively using it. This makes turning on your personal firewall even more important. Your computer is better protected when a personal firewall is combined with a network firewall. Some routers include hardware firewalls for your home network.
- Intruders can cause problems many different ways. They can:
- Infect your computer, delete files, and otherwise compromise your computer
- Gain access to stored information, including your personal information or account and password information
- Use your computer as a "home base" to launch attacks, such as distributing viruses or mass emails to other computers, making it look like you are the hacker
Operating systems and programs occasionally have vulnerabilities that are not discovered until after the product has been released. To fix these problems, manufacturers issue patches, usually free, which are files you can download and install to repair the vulnerability. Security software only protects against the newest threats if it is kept up-to-date by installing these patches.
- Newer versions of Windows, Macintosh and Linux operating systems have a built-in function to check for critical updates to the operating system when connected to the Internet. For any installed software, make sure you have enabled its "auto update" feature.
- Depending on the programs you have installed, some may require updates that built-in checks do not cover. In these cases (usually relating to network services), it's a good idea to watch the manufacturer's page for security updates. The IT Service Desk offers information about Windows Security Updates. For advanced, proactive protection on some Windows operating systems (Windows NT 4.0, 2000, and XP) use the Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer (MSBA), a program that scans Windows-based computers for common security misconfigurations.
Encryption is the translation of data into a secret code. Encrypted files require you to have access to a secret key or password that enables you to decrypt it. Encryption is just one tool available to you. In addition to using best practices, encryption helps keep your files and folders protected in the event of loss, theft, or other unauthorized access.
- Encryption includes not just file and folder encryption but also the transport of personal information via secure communication paths like Virtual Private Networks (VPN) or encrypted email.
- Encryption of personal data protects it from the notification process in the event of an exposure to unauthorized persons. Several items in Ohio Revised Code §1347 refer to the use of encryption and its impact on the notification process.
- The type of encryption you use depends upon which Operating System you use, what function you are performing (e.g. file or folder versus VPN), and your internal IT procedures.
More information on encryption including user instructions for operating MacOSX FileVault, Windows EFS, and PGP Whole Disk Encryption.
With a "wired" network, you have a cable that goes from your computer to a point on the network. When you go to a website, the network traffic is sent along the cable. The switch or hub on the other end of the cable takes your traffic, and passes it along to its destination.
With a wireless network (often called Wifi), there are no wires and, similar to radio waves, your network traffic is broadcast to the area around you. On a wireless network, an access point has to receive your wireless traffic and send it along to its destination. Because the signal is broadcast through the air, sometimes as far as several hundred feet, anyone with a wireless equipped device can gain access to your network.
- Take precautions. Unless you take certain steps to secure your wireless connection, others can use the open broadcasting to "piggyback" or steal your wireless connection to the Internet, access the information you send over the connection, or use your connection to send spam or commit a crime.
- Use secure wireless connections. Most routers and base stations come with the ability to encrypt, however, this may be turned off when you first receive the device. Turn the encryption on. If you don't know how, check the instructions or the manufacturer's website.
- Never, ever send account and password information over an open (unsecure) wireless connection.You are broadcasting to everyone within the radius of your wireless signal, which can be several hundred feet, all of your personal information and account information. They can use this to compromise your accounts (e.g. email, financial, system/application access), steal your identity, or commit fraud in your name.
- How to Protect Myself
- Good Security Habits
- More information on viruses and spyware and how to avoid these threats.