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Note: Information contained in archived ITSS newsletter articles was current at the time of publication, but may not reflect the present state of technology or ITSS.

April 2003

Practice Safe Computing

Here are some tips for keeping your computing environment secure. This information is based on "An Important Message About Data Security" from the Academic Health Center.

  • If you access your work data from home or other off-campus location using an Internet Service Provider (ISP), use virtual private network (VPN) software to get a secure link to the university server. See our separate article on VPN.
  • Turn off your computer whenever you will not be using it for several hours. Unattended computers that are linked to the network are vulnerable to hackers. Turning off your computer also saves energy.
  • Install a good anti-virus program, update it regularly, and scan often. The University of Minnesota provides free anti-virus software from Norton for your use. See our Virus and Security Information page for more details.
  • Do not open email attachments unless you are expecting them from a specific sender. Email headers can be changed or simulated, so even if you think the mail came from a friend, don't click on or open the attachment until you verify that the sender actually sent it.
  • Don't let just anyone use your computer. You are responsible for all use of your computer. Do not make it easily accessible to strangers.
  • Use screen saver passwords and system passwords whenever possible. Screen savers that come with modern operating systems can easily be configured to require a password to get back to your regular screen. Use this feature to protect your computer when you step away from your desk for a few minutes.
  • Use strong and secure passwords. The security design of many systems requires you to enter a password. The object of having a password is to prevent others from posing as you or accessing your data. Follow the OIT Security Guidelines for choosing a strong password. Keep your password secure by not writing it down and not sharing it with others.
  • Don't download software from the Internet of unknown origin and/or unknown security. Some software, including screen savers, can include features that make your computer vulnerable or allow access to your personal data without your knowledge or permission.
  • Make back ups. You should regularly back up all work that you do on your computer. Data saved on your computer's hard drive can easily be lost if the hard drive fails. If you choose to save your data on a campus server, it will be backed up nightly for you. See more information on Aufs, Novell, or Samba file services.
  • Double check and think twice about your work before sharing, printing, or transferring it anywhere else. Incidents have occurred recently in which data has been transferred inadvertently to non-secure sites and made public. Think twice, or consult with another person, before sharing sensitive data. Confirm that sites to which you are sending data are themselves secure.
  • Before recycling or returning old hardware, ensure that the hard drive has been purged and all data has been deleted. See our article on Disk and Hard Drive Cleaning in last month's newsletter for more information.
  • Use your operating system's automatic-update features to keep your system safe. See our separate article OS Auto Updates for more information on this topic.
  • If you detect something suspicious about your computer or data within it, contact the ITSS Help Desk (ext. 8847 or email

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Last modified on 04/03/03
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