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Computer Security Best Practices & Tips

Instructor: Christopher Shupe

Christopher has worked in several areas of IT, including Helpdesk Support and Network Administration, and has completed a BA in Mass Communications.

This lesson will address how best to stay safe when having a computer on the internet, specifically in password creation, site safety and email usage.

The How of Security

In a day and age where we hear so much about the possibility of attack and data breach and identity theft, how can we secure our computers so that we're not a part of those events? What can we do to protect ourselves? These questions are easily overwhelming to anyone who might be forced to face them, but hopefully, this lesson will help address those concerns.

Password Security

One of the major elements of security is authentication. This is proving that you are who you say you are. The most common way of doing this is through the usage of a user account: a username and password.

There are two types of authentication: single-factor, using one method of authentication, and multi-factor, using two or more methods of authentication concurrently.

The common methods include things you know (passwords and PINs), things you have (special tokens or ID cards) and something you are (fingerprints and other biometrics.) For the scope of this lesson, we're going to focus on the most common type: What you know.

Passwords should balance between easy to remember and not easy to guess, making it difficult to think of passwords sometimes. Using these recommendations may assist in creating secure passwords and making them easy to remember:

  • Should be longer than 8 characters
  • Not be dictionary words or common phrases
  • Should contain different types of characters: letters (upper and lower cased), numbers and allowed symbols
  • Not be special or personal to the person, such as the title of a favorite movie or a friend's birthday
  • Never be shared with other users, except for the case of a shared account in a business

One method of creating passwords now is the passphrase. In a passphrase, you take something that is more than one word or even a sentence and manipulate it to become a single password for your account. For example, someone familiar with music may use the 1812 Overture, the song so well-known with its inclusion of cannons as percussion instruments. As a passphrase, it might become:

1812OvertureBOOM!!!

On consideration of the suggested rules, this meets every one of them. The only concern would be if the user had the album on their desk, violating the fourth in it being personal to the user.

Software Security

When using a computer, one of the threats is the possibility of viruses. Antiviral software can help block viruses, but taking precautions is just as important.

One easy solution is to not use an administrator account for daily access. Using an account with administrator access to a machine could allow hidden malware, software with harmful intent, to automatically install itself from seemingly safe locations.

Any downloads should be done from reputable sites only. Google or other search engines supply excellent information in determining if a site is safe site or not, plus give alternatives in the download process.

Email Security

Email is an excellent way of communicating. Faster and cheaper than physical mail, it seems to have many advantages. Unfortunately, this means that potential attackers can use these advantages as well.

Phishing is a method where a clone site masks itself as a real site to get information about a person. In email, this is often done by sending links to clone sites for banking or service sites where you may give personal information that can be stolen. The emails will commonly tell you that there is a problem with your account or that your service will be cut off or that you have to login to confirm something.

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