Staying Safe, Sound, and Secure Online: Tips and Tricks for Safer Computing: Part One

Posted by Bill Crum on Aug 28,  2015

 

safe and secure banner

It seems like every day we see a new headline about the latest company that was breached by hackers, data leaked, passwords compromised, identities stolen. That could never happen here on our campus, right?

In reality, no organization is safe from attack, including educational institutions. As centers for higher learning, we possess inside our walls knowledge that other countries and individuals want, which makes us a desirable target. And they are willing to use employees to achieve their endgame. They will mine for information, plant devices, and trick people into giving up the keys to the kingdom.

One of the keys to security is a well-educated workforce who knows what to look for and appropriate actions to take. So how do we stay safe online? This article series will give you some practical information to help you protect yourself, and our campus, from potential data breaches and other technological malfeasance.

Browsing Safely

Often we are lulled into a false sense of security when browsing online. Surely if an Internet provider allows a website to exist, it’s safe, right? Internet providers are in the business of providing Internet access, not monitoring the content on their servers. While they try to look for potential threats, there are far too many sites out there for them to catch every problem.

When browsing online, keep three things in mind:

Is this a trusted site? Is the site you are browsing a well-known site, or managed by a well-known, well-respected organization? A Google search can return a great many sites, some that are legitimate, some riddled with viruses, spyware, etc. Carefully consider clicking links. If you are unsure of the site origin, it is best not to visit the site until you are sure it is a valid site.

Is your system protected with some type of antivirus/antimalware software? If you are using a campus machine, your machine has this software installed. If you are browsing at home or using a mobile device, make sure that you are using updated antivirus/antimalware software. While viruses and malware can still make their way onto your device, having this software installed can significantly decrease the risk. However, still maintain vigilance with respect to the sites you visit. Antivirus software does not make you impervious to viruses and malware.

Are you passing information over an SSL secured site? SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is a security technology that encrypts the link between a server (where a website lives) and a client (like your device). You have been exposed to SSL whether you know it or not. Websites that begin their address with “https” are SSL secured sites, and your browser usually displays a lock icon near the address bar when you are browsing an SSL-secured site. Why is this important? Any time you pass information (such as your address, credit card, or other personal information), SSL encrypts that data so that someone listening in can’t decipher the information. Browsing to and submitting information on a site not secured with SSL technology puts you at risk of providing your personal information to an attacker. You should never submit a form on a site not protected with SSL.

In the next installment, we will explore how hackers exploit e-mail, and how you can protect yourself.