IT Perspectives: 10 Tips for Safe Computing

Julie Myers, Chief Information Security OfficerGUEST CONTRIBUTOR

Julie Myers
Chief Information Security Officer
University of Rochester

Today, we are more dependent on computers and the information that they store than ever before, so any disruption can have a huge impact on our lives. No matter how savvy the user, safe computing practices are a combination of physical protections using computer software and security settings and the secure actions of the user. You need both to make a difference. Below are ten tips that will help you protect your computer and, ultimately, the information stored on it.

1. Keep your computer updated

In the evolving world of software viruses, it is essential that computer owners use anti-virus software and keep it up to date.  Most antivirus software gives the user the ability to do automatic updates. It is also important to keep other software on your computer updated.  Software updates often include essential bug fixes and security features that address existing vulnerabilities. Lastly, enable the personal firewall on your computer to keep unauthorized people from gaining access to your files while online.

Free downloads of Sophos antivirus are available for work and home computers to all University students, faculty, and staff.

2. Create strong, secure passwords

Strong passwords are less likely to be hacked than very generic passwords. We recommend passwords that contain at least eight characters with a combination of letters, numbers, and, where possible, symbols. Avoid writing down passwords, and do not share your passwords with anyone.

3. Download files legally

Along with the possibility of significant legal penalties, downloading music and movies from peer-to-peer networks can be harmful to your machine.  These downloaded files are sometimes riddled with viruses and spyware.

4. Keep personal information safe

Reduce your risk of identity theft:  never share your personal information via email, no matter how official the email looks.  Official business that requires personal information should not happen via unsecured email.

5. Scan email attachments and validate links

Viruses can lurk in emails from friends and family, so scan all attachments that are sent to you.  If you receive a link in an email from a trusted source, hover over the link and look in the bottom bar of your web browser to reveal the true URL and validate that the link is legitimate. This will ensure that you know where you are going and help you decide whether you want to go there.

6. Lock your computer

When leaving your computer unattended, physically lock it to prevent theft of the machine.  We also suggest that users lock the screen with a password to safeguard data.

7. Log off any public areas

When using a public computer or network, remember to completely log off all sites and the machine when finished.  Users should be especially mindful to uncheck boxes that will remember their login information for online services, such as email and bank accounts.

8. Back up important data

If you have important information that you cannot afford to lose, back it up.  We recommend that you store this information securely and even consider storing extra copies at another location.

9. Limit information on social media sites

For many people, birth dates, anniversaries, addresses, phone numbers, and other personal information can be found on social media sites.  Protect yourself from identity theft and other scams by limiting what information you disclose online and who can see that information.

10. Avoid surfing websites that you don’t already know

Browsers are quickly becoming one of the larger vulnerabilities in computing. Adware and spyware are written specifically to exploit Internet Explorer and Firefox, so try to stick with the websites you trust.

While these steps are not foolproof, they will go a long way toward extending the life of your machine and protecting the valuable information contained on it.