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Computer Safety Practices

Learning Objectives

  1. Be aware of potential risks and computing hazards
  2. Understand safe computing practices
  3. Be familiar with the software and tools

Computing Hazards

Unfortunately, using a computer can expose you to a variety of risks. By being aware and learning safe computing practices, you can avoid these hazards and enjoy worry free computing.

Criminals can use technology to steal information from your computer, use your computer for their own purposes, or simply cause damage to files on your system. This could be done directly, or more often through the use of malware; malicious software such as viruses, trojans, spyware and adware that are designed to steal from, attack or misuse your computer.

Rather than being afraid of these challenges, it's important to learn about them, and focus your energy on healthy practices that avoid these problems in the first place.

Computer Diseases

Below are some of the common programs that can adversely affect your computer:
  • Viruses - a computer program that can copy itself and infects a computer with the intent to damage files and information.
  • Trojans - a computer program that appears innocent but has a hidden agenda that can be activated.
  • Worms - a computer program that uses your computer to attack other computers through security vulnerabilities.
  • Spyware - a computer program that sends information from your computer to other systems on the Internet.
  • Adware - a computer program that presents you with unsolicited advertising.
  • Phishing - a website or computer program that attempts to fool you into providing login and password information.
  • Botnet - any number of computers that are remotely controlled through use of illicit programs that have been installed on them.
The video below also helps explain some of these challenges:

Staying Healthy

Many of these problems can be avoided by following safe computing practices.
  1. Protect yourself
  2. Don't talk to strangers
  3. Stay out of dark alleys
  4. Know where to get help
Let's take a look at these topics in more detail

Protect Yourself

You can avoid most malware problems by making sure your computer is protected and following safe computing practices.  Here is a short video by Google that highlights these concepts:

An easy way to review your protection checklist is to use the acronym SAFE.  Here is what it stands for:
  • S -  Software Updates
    - Make sure that your Microsoft Windows is up-to-date. You should have automatic updates turned on, and occasionally check the  Security Center to ensure that there is no problems with the update process. Each week people are discovering security holes in Microsoft Windows, and many of these updates are released to quickly plug these vulnerabilities. A system that is not to date is a short target for an attack. Also, it's important to make sure you do not have any insecure versions of non-Microsoft programs. Remove any programs that you don't use, and use a program like Secunia PSI to check if you have non-Microsoft program security vulnerabilities.
  • A -  Anti-Malware Programs - Check that you are using a quality antivirus program, and that it is kept up to date. In addition you should install one or more Anti-spyware programs and run them from time to time.
  • F -  Firewall - When you're connected to the Internet, a firewall is essential for protecting you from remote access, and unauthorized information transfer. First, make sure that you have a hardware firewall between your computers and the Internet. Secondly, make sure Windows firewall is turned on, or substitute Windows firewall with a quality replacement. Be careful to only run one firewall on your computer to avoid conflicts and potential security issues.
  • E - Environment - Be aware of who has access to your computer or who can observe what you're doing when using your computer. Use a login and password to access your system. When making up a password, be sure to use a Strong password so that it cannot be easily guessed or compromised.  You can use this Microsoft Service to check how strong your password is. When using public systems, be sure to sign out and never allowed the computer to remember your information or passwords. Having trouble remembering passwords, read this article for an interesting approach.

Don't Talk to Strangers

Staying safe have a lot to do with trust. This is true in general, but also particularly with computing. Here are a few tips:
  1. Become familiar with trusted names like Microsoft, Norton, McAfee, etc.
  2. Only buy from sources that you trust.
  3. Everyone has an opinion, when getting advice check credentials.
  4. Appearances can be misleading. Make sure that the website or person is really who they say they are.  For example, phishing websites masquerade as your banking website in order to lure you into providing them with your login and password information.
  5. If you get e-mail from someone you don't know, don't feel compelled to read it. Also, only click on links or open attachments in e-mails if you are confident in what they are.

Stay Out Of Dark Alleys

One of the best ways of staying out of trouble is to not go looking for it. Gambling and pornography sites are loaded with malicious software and dangerous downloads. Here are some things to be aware of:
  1. Dangerous websites can carry a payload, they have embedded code that could infect your computer through vulnerabilities in your web browser or various plug-in programs.
  2. File sharing programs, like Limewire, allow people to share files between computers over the Internet. This is often a great way to pick up infected programs and viruses.
  3. Spam, unsolicited e-mail, will often include links to dangerous websites that will infect your computer. Ignore or delete all spam.
  4. Site rating services, such as McAfee Site Advisor, can be helpful in steering you clear of problem websites.

Know Where to Get Help

A computer is a very complex machine. When everything is working well, a computer can be used productively by anyone with even a minimal amount of skill. However, when there is a problem, often it is necessary to get professional help. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the resources in your community before you have a problem.

Additional Information

For further review, try these tutorials from Microsoft: