Here are some tips to help protect your computer’s security and keep your data safe.
Back Up Your Work
You should always back up your computer files so you have a copy of them someplace other than on your computer. This is important in case the computer ever has a serious problem, such as a virus infection, defective hard drive, or corrupt operating system. Viruses and hard-drive failure can damage files to an unrecoverable extent.
- Buy an external hard drive
- Burn files to a CD or DVD
Install Antivirus and Keep Virus Definitions Up-to-Date
Viruses are malicious programs that run on a computer. They can take control by being:
- Destructive: compromising computer files; allowing outsiders to access your files; replicating itself through email (using your address book) or through the network; etc.
- Non-destructive: consuming computer resources making a computer slow; annoying pop-ups or error messages; etc.
Keep Your Operating System Up-to-Date
Having an up-to-date operating system reduces the likelihood of being exploited by malicious software. Windows Updates are released periodically when vulnerabilities have been discovered and updates subsequently released.
Be sure to run Windows Updates weekly or turn on Automatic Updates (in Control Panel). Apple also releases software updates. Be sure to run your Apple Software Updates.
Set Passwords on Administrative and User Accounts
In today’s computing environment, passwords are still the primary method of securing access to your personal and sensitive data.
- Do not share your passwords
- Use different passwords for different accounts. If your password gets compromised and many accounts use the same password, all of those accounts would be at risk.
- Do not write down passwords and leave them lying around. If you must write down a new password for fear of forgetting it, keep it somewhere that stays with you. Try to memorize your new password and destroy the written copy as soon as you feel you can remember it.
- Change your passwords often. Changing passwords every two to three months makes it more difficult for passwords to be cracked.
- Use complex passwords. Using a password that is 12 characters or more that combines upper and lower case letters along with numbers and special characters will decrease the likelihood of your password being hacked.
Do Not Use File Sharing Programs
File sharing programs that allow you to download and distribute copyrighted music, games, movies, television programs, and other files are illegal. You put yourself at legal and financial risk by downloading and sharing copyrighted material. In recent years, authorities have cracked down on file sharing across college campus networks. Another risk is that file sharing programs often allow for the easy transfer of viruses and spyware from computer to computer because they give other people sharing the server with you access to your computer. Spyware or viruses can be packaged into the files you download and may infect your computer.
Examples of file sharing programs are: Limewire, Bearshare, Bittorrent, Kazaa, iMesh, Grokster, Xolox, Morpheus, etc.
Turn on a Firewall
Connecting to the Internet can expose your computer to the world. Firewalls are like building a moat around your castle. Intruders will have to first break through the firewall to try to exploit your vulnerabilities.
Windows has a built-in firewall that is enabled by default and can be controlled from the Control Panel. Other Windows firewall products may be purchased.
Do Not Open Unexpected or Suspicious Email Attachments
Unexpected or suspicious email attachments should never be opened. They may execute a disguised program (adware, spyware, virus, etc.) that could damage or steal data. If in doubt, call the sender to verify. A good rule of thumb is to only open file attachments if you are expecting them and if they are relevant to the work you are doing.
Do Not Click on Links in Pop-Up Messages
Clicking on links in pop-up windows often allows third-parties to download malicious software onto your computer. Windows users and most Linux users can close pop-up messages by clicking on the X in the upper right hand corner, or by pressing ALT + F4 on your keyboard. Mac OS users can press Command + Q on their keyboard to close pop-up windows. Ignore pop-up warnings offering solutions to what they say are your computer problems.
Avoid Phishing Scams and Do Not Open Mail From Unknown Senders
Phishing attempts come in the form of emails that falsely claim to be an established legitimate organization or business, like a bank or store, in an attempt to scam the user into surrendering private or financial information. If you suspect the email to be illegitimate, we recommend calling the company to verify (but, please, do not use the contact information from that email).
Run Removal Tools for Spyware
Applications such as spyware and malware are installed on your computer, typically without your knowledge, to gather and refer information about you to advertisers and other interested third parties. Without your knowledge, spyware and malware can be easily installed when you access certain websites or download certain programs.
These applications do a number of things besides gathering information about you. For example, they can do all of the following:
- Make your computer slow/crash
- Slow down your Internet speed
- Monitor your computer activity
- Hijack your computer to send out spam or viruses
It is important to periodically run spyware scans since not all spyware can be prevented. Programs that allow you to download illegal copies of movies, music, games, television programs, and other files have also been known to allow spyware through. You should be careful with all freeware programs.