For the student or visitor, the following computer security guidelines should help protect you and your computer while you are on campus or when connecting to the UGA network. We highly recommend following the advice in these guidelines, because, unfortunately, computers do get virus infections, laptops get stolen, and weak passwords get exploited. Computer security problems can be a real nightmare, leading to the loss of important data (along with loss of valuable time and effort), loss of access to services, degraded or slow performance and networking, and even theft of personal information. As you use your computer at UGA, you should take steps to protect yourselves from the threats that can cause these problems. We recommend the following:
Attackers can easily guess blank or weak system passwords to gain access to an account on your computer in person or, sometimes, over the network. In fact, password cracking is one of the most common security threats that the Office of Information Security sees at UGA. You should use a strong password with a mix of both capital and lower case letters, numbers, and special characters (like '#', '@', or '$') to protect your computer. Guidelines for creating strong passwords can be found in the University of Georgia Password Standard.
Malicious software is always a threat, and spreads in numerous ways — web sites, downloads, attachments, flash drives, and over the network. Windows-based computers can take advantage of Microsoft's Security Essentials (MSE) for free virus and spyware protection on their personal computers. MSE is available on Microsoft's Security Essentials download page. Mac OS X computers are not immune to virus threats, as indicated by recent widespread infections of the Flashback virus. Mac OS X users may wish to download Sophos a free virus scanner for Mac OS X.
Most operating systems for desktop or laptop computers offer a firewall that allows your computer to connect to the network while limiting how others can connect to your computer. With a firewall enabled, your computer will be protected from many network-based threats and attacks. Windows-based computers will have a firewall enabled by default. Mac OS X computers have a built-in firewall program called "Firewall", but it is disabled by default and needs to be turned on to work. Mobile devices using iOS and Android do not have built-in firewalls, but firewall software can be installed if desired.
Outdated software is the most commonly used attack vector for computer viruses and malware. Make sure to keep the applications that are installed on your device up-to-date. Windows users should consider using Ninite to automate or at least simplify application updates.
Operating system updates are also critical for security, and Windows and Mac users should configure their computer for automatic security updates whenever possible. Fortunately, new Windows and Mac computers are typically configured for automatic security updates by default.
By adjusting the settings in your browser you can significantly increase security while online and minimize the threat of picking up a virus or other malware from infected websites. Some browsers also allow add-ons, which give the user more control over content and how it is displayed.
More information on browser security is available on the UGA Office of Information Security's Securing Your Browser page. Or you may wish to find out more about ways to Protect Your Data on the UGA network and online.
The security tips above all involve software threats, but you should take steps to protect your computer from real-world physical threats as well. Locking your screen when your computer is not in use should prevent any unauthorized access and help protect your privacy. Don't leave your computer unattended anywhere on campus on in your car in order to prevent theft. For mobile devices like smart phones and laptops, consider using tracking services or enabling tracking to help you recover the device if it is ever stolen.
No matter how diligent you are about protecting your computer, problems may still arise. When protection fails, you want to have a backup of your important data from which to recover. Cloud services, your UGAMail SkyDrive, external hard drives, and USB drives all make for good places to backup your data. But before you backup, consider protecting your data using encryption to keep it from falling into the wrong hands.
If you follow these easy steps, your computer will be well protected on campus and on the UGA network. Feel free to contact EITS if you have any concerns about securing your personal computer via the EITS Help Desk at 706-542-3106.