Best practices for computer security
This document details how you can secure your computer, accounts, and the data stored on them. Best Practices contains more technical security precautions that you should know, and that local support providers (LSPs), department administrators, and technicians should implement.
All information in this document applies to laptops, but for further details, see Laptop Security.
For help, contact your campus Support Center.
Note: Following some of the suggestions below can affect how your computer interacts with the network. If your computer or local network is managed by a computer support provider (such as an LSP), you should consult with your provider before making changes to avoid disrupting your network connection.
On this page:
- Top three things you can do to protect your computer
Avoid threats to your computer
- Never share passwords or passphrases
- Do not click random links
- Beware of email and attachments from unknown people
- Do not download unfamiliar software off the Internet
- Do not propagate virus hoaxes or chain mail
- Log out of or lock your computer
- Shut down lab/test computers
- Remove unnecessary programs or services
- Restrict remote access
- Frequently back up important documents and files
- Treat sensitive data very carefully
- Remove data securely
- Deploy encryption whenever it is available
- Securing your home network
Top three things you can do to protect your computer
Use security software
The most important thing you can do to keep your computer safe is to install and maintain security software, which protects your computer from viruses and spyware. Such security programs perform two general functions: scanning for and removing viruses and spyware in files on disks, and monitoring the operation of your computer for virus-like activity (either known actions of specific viruses or general suspicious activity). Most security software can perform both of these tasks.
- Install an antivirus application, and keep your virus pattern
files up to date. At IU, see What is Symantec Endpoint Protection?
In general, it's not a good idea to have more than one antivirus program installed on your computer. Each program may interpret the actions of the other as viral, therefore giving you false warnings about virus-related activities.
- For antispyware for Windows computers, UITS recommends
- Install and run Identity Finder, a tool to help you
search for, protect, and dispose of personal information stored on
your computer, file shares, or external media.
- Install the Secunia Personal Software Inspector. This will alert you when your current software applications are out of date or require a security update.
Practice the principle of least privilege (PoLP)
Practice the principle of least privilege. Do not log into a computer with administrator rights unless you must do so to perform specific tasks. Running your computer as an administrator (or as a Power User in Windows) leaves your computer vulnerable to security risks and exploits. Simply visiting an unfamiliar Internet site with these high-privilege accounts can cause extreme damage to your computer, such as reformatting your hard drive, deleting all your files, and creating a new user account with administrative access. When you do need to perform tasks as an administrator, always follow secure procedures. For more, see Use a Less Privileged Account.
Maintain current software and updates
Use a secure, supported operating system; see ComputerGuide: Deals by vendor, recommendations, and common questions. Keep your software updated by applying the latest service packs and patches. Refer to your operating system's help for assistance.
The best way to maintain third-party software is to install the Secunia Personal Software Inspector. This will alert you when your current software applications are out of date or require a security update.
Avoid threats to your computer
Never share passwords or
passphrases: Pick strong passwords and
passphrases, and keep them private. Never share your
passwords or passphrases, even with friends, family, or computer
Note: At Indiana University, no official communication (e.g., email message, phone call, or computer support consultation) will ever include a request for your Network ID passphrase.
For more, see:
- Passwords and passphrases
- May I allow someone else to use my IU computing account?
- What should I do if someone else has been trying to log into my account?
- If I give my passphrase to someone else who uses my account to send a harassing email message, will I be held responsible?
Do not click random
links: Do not click any link that you can't verify. To avoid
viruses spread via email or instant messaging (IM), think
before you click; if you receive a message out of the blue, with
nothing more than a link and/or general text, do not click it. For
more, see If I use instant messaging software, how can I keep my computer secure?
Beware of email or attachments from
unknown people, or with a strange subject line: See At IU, how can I protect my computer from an email attachment infected with a virus?
Do not download unfamiliar software
off the Internet: KaZaA, Bonzi, Gator, HotBar, WhenUSave,
CommentCursor, WebHancer, LimeWire, and other Gnutella programs all
appear to have useful and legitimate functions. However, most of this
software is (or contains) spyware, which will damage your
operating system installation, waste resources, generate pop-up ads,
and report your personal information back to the company that provides
Obtain public domain software from reputable sources, and then check the newly downloaded software thoroughly, using reputable virus detection software on a locked disk, for signs of infection before copying it to a hard disk.
Note: Before you choose to download and use these types of programs, make sure you are not violating copyright or other applicable laws. Downloading or distributing whole copies of copyrighted material for personal use or entertainment without explicit permission from the copyright owner is against the law. For more, see:
- Filesharing @ IU
- What happens if I receive a copyright infringement notice, and how can I avoid it?
- What is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act?
Do not propagate virus hoaxes or chain
mail: For more, see:
- What should I know to avoid getting in trouble with email?
- How can I tell if a computer virus alert is a hoax?
Log out of or lock your computer when
stepping away, even for a moment: Forgetting to log out poses
a security risk with any computer that is accessible to other people
(including computers in public facilities, offices, and shared
housing), because it leaves your account open to abuse. Someone could
sit down at that computer and continue working from your account,
doing damage to your files, retrieving personal information, or using
your account to perform malicious actions. (For an example of possible
consequences, see this
entry in the Protect IU Blog.) To avoid misuse by others, remember
to log out of or lock your computer whenever you leave it.
Shut down laboratory or test
computers after you are finished with them: For computers in
the UITS Student Technology Centers (STCs) or Residential
Technology Centers (RTCs), logging out is sufficient to
protect the security of your accounts and data. With other computers,
however, it is usually necessary to shut them down after you have
finished to prevent unauthorized access. Shutting down a computer
prevents others from hacking it remotely, among other risks.
Remove unnecessary programs or
services from your computer: Uninstall any software and
services you do not need.
Restrict remote access:
UITS recommends that you disable file and print sharing. In rare
exceptions when you may need to share a resource with others, you
should format your drive using NTFS, and correctly set the
file and directory permissions. With Windows 2000 and
XP, new folders are created by default with access granted
to the "everyone" group. If you do have file sharing enabled on your
computer, be careful to set permissions correctly when creating new
folders so you don't inadvertently leave them open to everyone on the
network. For more, see If I use file-sharing software, how can I keep my computer secure?
UITS also recommends disabling Remote Desktop (RDP) and Remote Assistance, unless you require these features. If you do, enable the remote connections when needed, and disable them when you're finished. Note that you only need to enable RDP on the computer you intend to connect to; disabling RDP on the computer you're connecting from will not prevent you from making a connection to another computer.
Frequently back up important
documents and files: This protects your data in the event of
an operating system crash, hardware failure, or virus
attack. UITS recommends saving files in multiple places
using two different forms of media (e.g., Oncourse
Resources, USB flash drive, or CD-R). See At IU, what options do I have for storing my files?
Treat sensitive data
very carefully: For example, when creating files, avoid
keying the files to Social Security numbers, and don't gather any more
information on people than is absolutely necessary.
At IU, sensitive information should be handled (i.e., collected, manipulated, stored, or shared) according to legal and university functional requirements related to the specific use involved, as well as data and security policies of the university; see Protecting Data. For more, contact the university Data Steward for the data subject area involved; see the Committee of Data Stewards.
Remove data securely:
Remove files or data you no longer need to prevent unauthorized access
to them. Merely deleting sensitive material is not sufficient, as it
does not actually remove the data from your system. For information
on secure data removal, see Securely Removing
Deploy encryption whenever it is
available: For more, see:
Securing your home network
For advice on securing your home network, see How can I secure my home wireless network?
Last modified on February 19, 2013.