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Safe computing: Tips and Tricks

Anti-virus programs are very important for computer security, but security starts with you, the user. There are many things you can do in several different areas to ensure the safety of your computer and your data.

General best practices
Email security
File and Data security
Computer security
Web and social networking security

General best practices

  • Do not give out your log in information to anyone via e-mail or the phone.
  • Do not write your passwords on sticky notes and leave them laying around.
  • Make a password for your computer—and not something like “password1”!
  • Use KeePass, which manages all your passwords so you can save them (and avoid entering them all the time) and protects them with a master password.
  • Do not leave your office with your computer open and usable. Lock your computer or log off, shut/lock the door or use a computer cable lock, which secures your machine to the desk.
  • Avoid keeping strong magnets, liquids or messy food around your computer. Magnets can alter the hard drive, causing data to be unrecoverable, and liquid spills can vary from recoverable to completely ruinous!
  • When transporting your computer from one place to another, shut it down first or ensure it is sleeping/hibernating so that the hard drive is not spinning. Jostling a computer with a spinning (active) hard drive can cause errors and data loss.
  • Ensure your computer has adequate ventilation—avoid using it in bed on your lap! Overheating can warp the connections in a hard drive and is a major cause of data loss.

Email security

  • Avoid clicking links which look like gibberish, are sent to you by unknown persons or that seem unusual for the person who sent it.
  • Be wary of attachments as they are a popular venue for viruses. Look for common file extensions like .docx, .pptx, .pdf, and .jpg. Even so, be careful—some viruses masquerade as images! Avoid .exe or .com files unless you trust the person intended to send you one of those.
  • Set your anti-virus suite to scan incoming emails and downloaded attachments.
  • Check the “full headers” of an email message to determine the true source of it (look for the Return-Path field). Be wary of emails where Return-Path and From differ.
  • Be wary of emails asking for your log in information, especially if they appear to come from some “system administrator” or “IT team” or “security team.” Make sure the email address contains the correct domain ( for example) and check with CASIT if you think it still sounds fishy.

File and Data security

  • Make regular backups of important data to an external hard drive, to your department’s or your own server space or even to CD/DVD or a thumb drive. One copy is not enough!
  • For highly sensitive information, consider encryption. Encryption makes files unreadable by any but the authorized user. Consult CASIT for help.
  • When getting rid of an old computer/hard drive, request that it be securely wiped once you have made sure you have all of your data safely copied to your new computer/hard drive.

Computer security

  • Keep your anti-virus suite up-to-date so it can catch the latest viruses and malware.
  • Install an additional on-demand scanner for malware/greyware/spyware. Malwarebytes or Spybot Search & Destroy are both excellent choices. Keep this program up-to-date!
    • Run the “immunization” function of Spybot to ensure maximum browser security.
  • Keep your operating system (Windows or OSX) up-to-date; Microsoft and Apple both periodically release “patches” which fix flaws in the operating system. You can run updates from these locations:
    • Windows: Start > Control Panel > Windows Update
    • Mac: Apple menu > Software Update.
  • Make sure the firewall built into your OS is active.
    • Windows: Start > Control Panel > Windows Firewall
    • OSX: Apple menu > System Preferences > Security > Firewall

Web and social networking security

  • Use common sense. A trustworthy website will be well-organized, appear official and will help you find information or perform an action.
  • When deciding whether to click a link, hover your mouse over the link. Check the bottom bar of the program you are in, or wait for a little box to pop up over the cursor. If the link in one of these places differs from the link that was linked to you, don’t click it!
  • Avoid using excessive Facebook applications. Many applications are fronts for viruses or account hijackers.
  • Close suspicious windows and pop-up ads by using Alt-F4 rather than the X button.
  • Watch out for redirects. If you click on one link and end up on some other page, especially if it looks shady, the page may be dangerous or you may have a browser hijacker.
  • Use ad blockers, Javascript blockers and Flash blockers. Ask for help choosing Javascript or Flash blockers, since many legitimate applications and tools use these things (such as YouTube).

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