Keeping Your Computers Safe

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1 LOUISIANA BROADBAND INITIATIVE Keeping Your Computers Safe First in a series of White Papers: Staying Safe Online David Moore State Broadband Grant Program Director

2 The 2012 Louisiana State Broadband Survey, conducted by the Louisiana Broadband Initiative, in partnership with the Louisiana State University Manship Research Facility, indicated that Online Threats was a major barrier to broadband adoption among those survey participants who have chosen not to subscribe to high-speed internet, even though service is available to their homes. This white paper is intended to provide this specific audience with the tools to keep themselves and their computers safe from online threats, so that they may join us in benefitting from broadband adoption. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * INTRODUCTION We have all heard the stories. Crashed computers, corrupted databases, unsuccessful backups: all resulting in lost data data that cannot be recovered and only recreated through a costly or resource intensive human effort. On a personal level, you may lose irreplaceable digital images or financial records; on a corporate level, businesses may lose their customers to their competitors and eventually fail to survive such a digital calamity. To begin the discussion on keeping your computer safe, we must first become familiar with the terms that are centric to the threats that affect your physical computer, as well as the tools that you can employ to protect it. Common Terms Personal Computer: the physical computer (desktop or laptop) used by an individual or business. Operating System: a set of programs that manage computer hardware resources and provide common services for application software. Web Browser: software application for retrieving, presenting and traversing information resources on the Internet. Security Suite: software products designed to protect computers from viruses and spyware. Anti-Virus Software: software used to prevent, detect and remove malware. Anti-Spyware Software: software used to prevent, detect and remove malicious software that collects information about users without their knowledge. Firewall: a technological barrier designed to prevent unauthorized communications between computer networks and hosts. External Hard Drive: an external computer device for storing and retrieving digital information. Cloud: a computing service where shared resources, software and information are provided to computers as a service over a network.

3 Malware: malicious software designed to disrupt computer operation, gather sensitive information, or gain unauthorized access to computer systems. Phishing: a way of attempting to acquire information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication. Spam: the use of electronic messaging systems to send unsolicited messages indiscriminately. Virus: a computer program that can replicate itself and spread from one computer to another. Spyware: malicious software that collects information about users without their knowledge. Scareware: software products that produce frivilous and alarming warnings or threat notices, most typically for fictitious or useless commercial firewall or registry cleaner software. Trojan Horse: a standalone malicious software program which may give full control of an infected computer to another computer. Browser Hijacking: the modification of web browser settings on a computer without the user s permission through the use of malicious software. METHODS Think of protecting your computer the same way you approach protecting your home: commonly, you close and lock the windows and doors, you only allow unlimited access to your closest family and friends, and when there are strangers in the home, you monitor their activities to ensure they bring no harm to your house or take your possessions without your permission. Additionally, many homeowners now have security systems installed in their homes or rely on Neighborhood Watch programs to provide additional safeguards. Likewise, it is critical for you to protect your computer with the tools that are commonly available to you (operating system updates, web browser updates, security suite updates), limit accessibility to your computer (firewall), safeguard your data (backups to an external hard drive or to the cloud), and avoid malicious software that takes control of your computer or gains access to your personal information without your permission (virus, spyware, phishing). In other words, secure your computer just as you secure your home: Investigate Your Computer Desktop computers, laptops, tablets and other devices are all delivered by their manufacturers with some level of internal security built into the device s operating system. Commonly, this will include firewalls, anti-spyware programs, security monitoring programs and, potentially, hard drive backup / restore capabilities. Evaluate each built-in security feature and configure to meet your needs. Assess Your Web Browser Security Settings Cookies, Active X scripting, and Java scripting are a few of the tools that both legitimate and malicious websites use to gather information about their visitors. Through Browser Security Settings, users can determine the access these tools can have to their computers.

4 Pop-Up blockers, Private Browsing, and Browsing History Deletion are additional browser configurations that will reduce the risk to your computer, as you browse. Assess Security Suites Once you are familiar with the built-in computer and browser security settings, you will be better able to evaluate the commercial security suites. Such security suites (some of which are free, based on your operating system or broadband service plan) provide added anti-virus and anti-spyware protection much like the deadbolt on the front door of your house, which reinforces the lock on the doorknob. Stay Current on Your Operating System Updates Computer hackers never rest. They are constantly attempting to compromise operating systems to find a way to access the information of innocent users. Likewise, operating systems programmers work constantly to identify vulnerabilities to correct exploited code. These programmers pass these corrections on to its users through operating system updates. You should always stay current with these updates, to ensure the safety of your computer. Update Your Anti-Virus Software Similarly, the programers supporting security suites are constantly working to identify vulnerabilities in their virus and spyware detection programs. They too pass these corrections on to their users through software updates, so users should take care to both stay current on these updates, as well as ensuring that their anti-virus license stays active. Conduct Virus Scans on Regular Basis As previously stated, computer hackers are constantly attempting to attack your computer and the anti-virus and operating system programmers are diligently reacting to new viruses and malware. Their updates stop new attacks, but only virus scans will identify vulnerabilities that were previously stored on your computer. Perform a full system scan at least once a week to be confident that your computer is safe. Backup Your Data Documents, digital pictures, personal information we generally store data that is critical to our lives on our computers. Hard drive failure or malware can render this data irretrievable. Back up your data to an external hard drive or through a cloud computing service regularly to ensure that you can access your data in the event of either a malicious attack or a computer failure.

5 Never Respond to Spam or Unsolicited s It s like your parents always told you if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Hackers are constantly enticing innocent users to access malicious websites to gather information about them and possibly to take control of their computesr. Don t ever respond to this type of scam. At best, you won t make any money; at worst, your identity, your banking information, your personal information and your dignity will be taken from you. Don t Be Fooled by Scareware Scareware attacks look legitimate to the uninformed, but the proactive user knows the security suite installed on his/her computer and is familiar with its warnings and update procedures. Don t click on any link that differs from this norm, because you will likely access a malicious website of ill intent. Restart Your Computer at least Once a Week While some users only restart their computers after installing new programs or system updates, it is a good idea to restart a computer periodically to allow it to run diagnostic checks to correct minor problems before they become major issues. CONCLUSION There are many threats to your computer through internet access. But, by making a small investment of time and money, you can ensure that your computer and your personal information stay safe and out of the hands of hackers. Once a good security plan is in place, it is quite simple to maintain, so don t let it stop you from enjoying the benefits that broadband accessibility can bring to you and your family. ABOUT The Louisiana Broadband Initiative was created in coordination with the Louisiana State Broadband Inititiative Program, made possible through a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce National Telecommunications Information Administration and funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of David Moore serves as Director of the Louisiana State Broadband Grant Program and is enthusiastic about promoting broadband throughout Louisiana. David has over 20 years of experience in the Information Technology field and is currently employed by the Louisiana Division of Administration s Office of Information Technology. If you would like to contact David about this topic, you may him at

6 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Cover Image: XLN Business Community (xintelecom.co.uk). Introduction to Internet Safety, GCFLearningFree.org. Protecting Your Computer from Internet Threats, GCFLearningFree.org. Top Tips for Online Safety at Home, Microsoft.

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