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Computer Security

The security of your computer is your responsibility. Failure to maintain a secure system can result in infection by viruses or other malware. These infections can cause serious damage to a computer requiring hours of debugging work or even purchase of a new computer. A 2007 survey by Consumer Reports found that in the first half of 2007 spyware infections prompted 850,000 U.S. households to replace their computers. One out of 11 surveyed had a major, often costly problem due to spyware. 
(Consumer Reports, State of the Net 2007).

We know computer security can be a bewildering and confusing topic for many people. This section will offer a brief explanation of each security hazard facing a computer owner and/or user, and suggest steps to eliminate or mitigate such threats. This service is offered as a courtesy to the TU community by TU Technical Services and is not meant to endorse any products. Use of any products or procedures described here are solely the responsibility of the user. Users may want to consult the Glossary provided by Trend Micro for definitions of technical terms.

What are "malicious programs"?

This is a catch-all phrase that includes viruses, trojans, worms, rootkits, adware, and spyware. Malicious programs do various things: they infect computers and pass the infection on to other computers, they exploit weakness to install programs, they steal information from infected computers and use up memory, processing speed, and Internet bandwith. They can even "hijack" your computer to use in denial-of-service attacks against a corporation's or organization's network. They are called "malicious" because these programs usually install themselves without your knowledge or consent, and usually perform actions that harm you, your computer, and other people and computers.

But don't worry too much. After reading through this section, you should feel confident that you know what the threats are, and will be able to get started protecting yourself and your computer! Take a look at some of the resources below to learn more.

Organization Description Link
Stop Badware Stop Badware is a non-profit organization, first started at Harvard University, that is dedicated to fighting viruses, spyware, and other malicious programs through prevention and education. StopBadware
Badware Busters Badware Busters is Stop Badware's community forum. Badware Busters
Stay Safe Online A division of the National Cyber Security Alliance, a public/private alliance between the Department of Homeland Security and various corporations to promote cyber security and awareness. StaySafeOnline
Microsoft Security Provided by Microsoft for Windows users, this site contains instructions, explanations, free downloads and more to help Windows users keep their systems secure. Microsoft Security
Mac OS X Security Configuration Guides Provided by Apple, this site has downloadable instructions in pdf format for OS X v. 10.3-10.5 for security configuration. Mac Security
Consumer Reports Online Security Guide Provided by Consumer Reports, the well-respected non-profit consumer protection organization, this site contains loads of valuable tips, instructions, advice, and explanations. Consumer Reports
 

Viruses

A computer virus is a self-replicating program that infects computers. Viruses are spread through the sharing and downloading of files on web sites, p2p networks, e-mail attachments, CDs and DVDs, USB storage devices (thumb or zip drives), and Microsoft Office documents. Always be cautious when downloading or sharing files. Be sure to scan executable files (exe) and Microsoft Office documents with an anti-virus program before opening them. While there are no known viruses for Mac computers, Mac users should be cautious because they can spread viruses to PCs through file-sharing and email attachments. While some viruses may cause an infected computer to exhibit "symptoms", most infected computers show no signs or symptoms. If you do not use some form of anti-virus scan or program, it is highly likely that your PC is already infected. See the table below for more information. For information about anti-virus software, see the Anti-Virus table on the Software Recommendations page.

 

Product or Website Description Link
VirusList Newsletter, real-time virus activity monitor, threat analysis, virus encyclopedia, glossary, and more security information and topics. The site is maintained by Kapersky Lab, an industry leader in anti-virus research and programming. Kapersky Labs VirusList
Threat Encyclopedia A listing of known threats and vulnerabilities. This site is maintained by TrendMicro, an industry leader in anti-virus research and programming. Threat Encyclopedia
Free Antivirus Tools A virus scan and clean-up tool for PCs, and a prevention tool for iPhone and iPod Touch. Provided by Trend Micro Free Antivirus
Threat Widget An embeddable live-feed threat widget for you website, Facebook, Google, etc. page. Provided by Trend Micro. Threat Widget
Threat Explorer This site is maintained by Symantec, the producer of the Norton security suite and antivirus software. This is a comprehensive listing of threats, including viruses. Also includes how-to and informational articles on a wide variety of security subjects. Symantec is an industry leader in anti-virus research and programming. Threat Explorer
 

Spyware and more...

Spyware, keyloggers, URL loggers, browser hijackers, trojans, password recorders, email recorders, chat loggers, and webbugs or adware are some of the most prevalent malware programs commonly found on personal computers. Spyware programs can be downloaded through email, weblinks, file sharing, p2p networks, and programs and files downloaded and installed from the Internet. Most spyware downloads and installs itself, and then runs without your knowledge. While you're happily going about your business, chatting with friends, sending emails, paying bills, and checking your bank balance online, these programs can be recording every thing you do, every website you visit, every click of your mouse, and every stroke on your keypad. Many times spyware is used to track browsing habits or produce targeted advertising, but it is also used for identity theft and fraud.

You should be as concerned about spyware on your conputer as you are about viruses! Many of the anti-virus programs that are available as a "Security Suite" have powerful anti-spyware components; you can check the table of anti-virus programs. The table below lists a few highly rated and reputable anti-spyware programs.

While it's nearly impossible to avoid all spyware, by running an anti-spyware program and following a few simple tips, you can limit your exposure and your risk.

Product Description Link
Ad-Aware Ad-Aware, authored by Lavasoft, is available as a free dowwnload. The download is provided by Cnet, so the download is certified. Ad-Aware is an award-winning comprehensive anti-malware program that is fast and simple to use. For Windows computers only. Cnet Download
Spybot S&D
Spybot Search & Destroy is a free program available from Safer Networking Inc. Spybot has won many "best" awards fro PC Magazine and PC World. It is a privacy program, meaning it scans and removes spyware. This is a direct download from the manufacturer. Safer Networking
CCleaner CCleaner by Piriform is a powerful privacy program that cleans and clears browser history and cache, as well as the registry, and third-party applications. CCleaner has won numberour awards and product reviews are available on their website. FileHippo Download
 

Firewalls

Firewalls are security devices designed to block unwanted or unauthorized network traffic. A firewall can be a software program, a hardware device, or a combination of both.

If you are attempting to access Blackboard from a computer at your work, you may experience problems with the company’s network and firewalls. Many companies have firewalls installed to protect their networks and prevent unwanted installations of software and possible viruses. If you are having network connectivity issues with Blackboard, you should contact your network or system administrator for assistance as well.

Most home computers, both Windows and Mac systems, come with a built-in firewall. Be sure to turn on and configure the firewall on your personal system for maximum protection from malicious programs and hackers. For assistance with this, see the HELP files for your particular operating system. In additon, many anti-virus programs are available in a security suite which include a software firewall and other malware protections. Be sure to check your anti-virus program, especially if you paid $40.00 or more for it.

If you use a wireless network or a wired or wireless router on your home network, you probably have a hardware firewall as well. See the instructions for your device to learn how to configure your device for maximum protection.

For more information about Firewalls, see the table below:

Device, Program, or Article Description Link
Zone Alarm Zone Alarm is available as a free download for either a basic firewall, or a 30 day trial of the full version. Zone Alarm has consistently won awards for excellence over a period of several years and is known as a reliable and reputable product. The free version of Zone Alarm is provided through CNet Zone Alarm
The Internet Security Zone This is a security blog written by Doctor Security and hosted by Zone Alarm. Internet Security Zone
cnet Firewall page Cnet is a well known and secure site from which users can download free software. Cnet provides editors' and users' reviews of products. Cnet
How Firewalls Work
An entry on the How Stuff Works website, this provides a simple yet accurate explanation of firewalls. Page includes some pictures and diagrams.
How Stuff Works
 

Email Security

Email is one of the most indispensible technological tools, and one of the biggest security risks for both individuals and oranizations. Every day thousands of people are victims of identity theft or fraud due to data obtained via email, or viruses and spyware spread through email. Corporations loose billions of dollars a year. Fortunately, several simple precautions can reduce your risk.

The most basic precaution goes without saying, but we're going to say it anyway: never reveal your password to anyone for any reason.
If you use a public computer, even the computer in your office, log out of your email and close the browser.
If you must write your password down, keep it in a secret place
Use the instructions for creating a secure password
Use an anti-virus program to scan your email
Many viruses and spyware programs arrive disguised within an attachment. You should have your antivirus program scan all email attachments
Never send secure or private information through email
Think of email like the front page of a newspaper, and hackers as subscribers. Really! Hacking email is very simple, and more people learn how to do it each year. Anyone could be reading your email.
Even attachments are not secure. Email attachments can be hacked as easily as the body of the email. If you must send a secure document as an attachment, use a program like Open Office to encrypt the document, then call the recipient and give them the document passcode verbally. If you have a good deal of technological know-how, you could also use PGP.
 

Pop-Ups & Spam

If you have installed pop-up/cookie/spam blockers on your computer, you may experience difficulties connecting to or using Blackboard. If you do have difficulties, you may be able to allow the screen to open if you hold down on the Control key.

 

Identity Theft

Five Tips for Protecting Yourself and Your Computer Online

  1. Use security software, either a suite or a combination of anti-spyware, privacy, anti-virus, and firewall programs.
    • Keep your security programs updated.
  2. Keep your operating system and browser updated. Consider upgrading to the latest version of Windows.
  3. When shopping online, be sure you see the "https" in the URL or a lock symbol.
  4. Never give personal information (name, birthdate, address, phone number etc.) in response to an email and don't click links in emails. Instead, go directly to the company's website.
    • If you must click a link sent by email, be sure the link and the actual address match exactly. Hover over the link and check the address bar in the lower left of your browser to be sure before you click.
  5. Keep your password secure. This means never give your password out, and don't use the same password for multiple accounts. Instead, create a master password and use variations for different sites.
    • No one at TU will ever ask for your password

Five Common Mistakes to Avoid

  1. Downloading free software. Always check and use a reputable site like cNet, FileHippo, TuCows, Download.com, or SnapFiles.
  2. Accessing a financial account through an email link. Instead, type in the URL directly, then add it to your bookmarks or favorites.
  3. Clicking on a link in a website that says your computer isn't secure. Other forms of this scam include offers for a free security scan, speed check, or performance check. In addition to the free check you often get a free spyware infection!
  4. Assuming your computer is secure.  Keep your software updated, perform scans frequently, turn your firewall on, and keep your wireless network encrypted. Never access secure sites from a public computer or an unsecured wireless network.
  5. Giving your password (or social security number) to anyone, or sending secure information through email.

Five Things to Think About

  1. "Remember me on this computer" Do you really need to store that cookie containing information that could potentially be stolen from your computer?
  2. "Save my account information" Consider shopping as a "guest" user, especially if you only plan to shop at an online store once.
  3. Ask your bank about a credit card you can use for online purchases only. Don't use your debit card to shop online.
  4. Don't use an email address that contains your name, or name and birth year, on a social networking site.
  5. Read that privacy statement. Yes it's long and boring, but check how a company will use your information and who will have access to it before you fill out that online form.
 

Social Networking: Privacy & Security

 

Laptop Theft

You may wish to have tracking software that could help locate your computer in case it is lost or stolen. Laptops are a target for theft because they are small and portable. Students travel either for classes, activities, or simply going back home during breaks. The table below shows two examples of this type of program.

 

Program Cost Link
LoJack for Laptops $59.95 Absolute Software
Prey Free Prey
Education that Engages... Empowers... TRANSFORMS

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