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Computer Security Recommendations

Having a reliable, trouble-free computer is essential for taking online tests and engaging in other course related activities. The guidelines below are the best steps you can take to have a dependable and secure computer. We strongly encourage students to take the small amount of time to set up their computers securely using this guide, rather than wasting many hours fixing a virus or hack.

Setting Up Your Computer

Protect computer with a strong login password

Learn what constitutes a strong password, create ones you can remember, and never share your password with anyone. Note: If you have reason to believe someone has learned one of your passwords, change it immediately.

Use a password protected screen saver

Configure your computer to lock the screen automatically, after a brief period of about 10-15 minutes of inactivity, with a password-protected screensaver. This enhances security and causes you minimal inconvenience.

Turn off file sharing

To ensure other people cannot access your files and folders, you must disable file sharing. In Windows XP uncheck the box "File and Printer Sharing" in the Properties of your wired and wireless connections. In Windows Vista & Windows 7 turn off File Sharing in the Network and Sharing Center. If you purchased a Dell computer from the University, you will notice that file sharing is already disabled. Macintosh computers disable file sharing by default.

Turn on firewalls

Firewalls can prevent hackers from making unwanted connections to your machine. The firewalls on recent Windows and Macintosh operating systems are turned on by default.

Turn off or delete unneeded software features

The more software packages there are on a computer, the more opportunity for hackers. Uninstall applications and turn off features you don't use.

Configure properly for multiple users

If multiple people use a computer, ensure that they each have their own user account.

Maintaining Your Computer

Use up-to-date anti-virus and anti-spyware software

We recommend that all users install Symantec Norton Endpoint Protection for Windows or Norton Antivirus for Mac. These are available for free at: http://www.itc.virginia.edu/central . Windows users should Install antispyware software on your computer, since antivirus protection is not enough. Download the Microsoft antispyware software Windows Defender, which is preinstalled on Windows Vista and Windows 7, for Windows XP.

At the time of installation you should do a full scan of your computer. In the software settings have both packages automatically do a full computer scan weekly, and have them check for virus definition updates on a weekly basis. Once you have completed the initial setup everything runs automatically in the background, and will make your computer much more reliable and secure.

If you already have Norton Antivirus installed, you can use this instead of Norton Endpoint Protection. The latter adds a few more features, but is primarily the same antivirus tool. If you do decide to “upgrade” from Norton Antivirus to Norton Endpoint Protection, you must uninstall Norton Antivirus before installing Norton Endpoint Protection.

Keep your operating system up-to-date

Updates should be downloaded and installed immediately—many contain critical fixes for security-related defects. Recent operating systems have automated the update process, though you may be prompted to approve the process. Look in your Windows Control Panels or Mac Apple Menu to check your settings.

Keep your application software updated

Here is a list of recommended software for medical students. Check your software manufacturers' websites regularly for updates to their products.

Generally we recommend that everyone use Firefox as their default browser, and specifically when taking tests. It is faster, more stable and more secure than IE. Many hackers specifically target the security holes in IE. Safari is also supported. Since Google Chrome is currently in beta testing we do not recommend it at this time. We do not test our applications with Opera or other little used browsers, and do not recommend them at this time. Be wary to installing any add-ons such as Yahoo toolbar as they consume memory and can slow down your browser’s performance.

Don't open files from unknown sources

Carefully judge the credibility and trustworthiness of the source of a file before opening it. Email attachments and downloaded files are common sources for malicious programs. Bear in mind that some viruses and worms can mimic the identity of a familiar email correspondent. If you weren't expecting an attachment, you may want to contact the email sender to verify the attachment before opening.

Delete Data Securely

Use secure data deletion to destroy files and folders immediately and permanently in a secure manner.

Backup

Create a backup of your entire system periodically, and back up critical data files whenever you update them. The ITC Home Directory Service provides adequate backup space for most people, but files consuming large amounts of space—video or music—may require external disk drives to back them up adequately. Learn more about archiving your data.

Use physical security

Protect your system from theft by physically securing your computer. Purchase a lockup cable for your laptop to increase security in residence halls, libraries, and other places you may take your computer, and a surge protector with a circuit breaker to protect against power line surges. Verify that your system is covered under a homeowner's or renter's insurance policy.

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