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Security Tips and Tricks

Introduction

 

Security is very important for your computing experience at Nebraska Wesleyan. Without good security practices, your computer may cease to function properly and become vulnerable to hackers, thus posing a threat to the entire Wesleyan network. Viruses, hackers and spyware are among the largest computer threats, but even something as common as spam can be dangerous. Although computer security can get complicated, a good understanding of basic principles can go a long way. Here are three simple rules:

 

Computer Security Advice

 

Just because it came with your computer does not mean it is the best tool for the job.

For instance, Microsoft Internet Explorer is actually one of the most common ways computer hackers, spyware and viruses enter your computer without you knowing or doing anything. You can greatly reduce intrusion onto your computer by switching browsers and email programs.

 

The Mozilla Project provides the fastest, safest, and simplest alternative to Microsoft Internet Explorer and Outlook Express. The free programs Firefox and Thunderbird (web browers and email reader, respectively) can do everything you need and do not require much work. You do not have to remove Outlook Express or Internet Explorer to use them, but the more you use Firefox and Thunderbird instead, the less viruses and spyware your computer will pick up.

 

At http://www.mozilla.org there are download links for Firefox, provided for Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux. Click on the download link, save them somewhere on your computer, run the installer, and soon you’ve got more secure browsing.

 

Not just a good idea. It’s the law!

Besides being strictly against university policy, any kind of file sharing application (Morpheus, Kazaa, Limewire, etc.) opens up huge holes in your computer, allowing viruses, spyware, and hackers to infiltrate. So think twice before you go after that song. It may give your computer a nasty virus, or crash it completely. Some viruses are so bad that they can be fixed only by replacing parts of your computer.

 

Never play with fire, but firewalls are your friend.

Firewalls are another good way to protect yourself and your computer. By closing the parts of the connection to your computer you are not using, they prevent hackers and viruses from sneaking in the back door while you are using the internet.

 

Wesleyan has a firewall to the internet because once a virus is inside the network, whether on your roommate’s computer or someone in another building, the virus can infect your computer.

 

So on campus, you are pretty safe. But because people come and go from the campus network, the firewall has less than perfect protection. If a student’s laptop was infected with a virus over break, it can get to your computer once the infected computer is connected to the network.

 

The moral of the story is this: leave on or turn on your Windows Firewall software or the firewall in Mac OS X. If your computer doesn’t have a firewall, there are free firewalls available for all operating systems. If you get a message asking you to “Unblock” something or to make an exception, think twice! Sometimes your computer does not know what’s good.

 

Clean up after yourself.

The unfortunate thing about computer security is that things will sneak in. In most cases, if your computer becomes infected, you can remedy the situation quite easily. Excellent removal tools exist for the major threats of spyware and viruses, which are much more common than actual hackers.

 

Anti-virus software protects your computer from incoming viruses and can remove those already inside, but is only as good as the virus definition file (which tells the software what viruses are out there and how to get rid of them), so update your anti-virus software often and look for any options that automatically update the definitions.

 

While Windows users typically are aware of the need for anti-virus software, many Mac users get overconfident due to the relatively few viruses compared to Windows. But some of them are quite nasty little bugs! Remember that just one virus on your computer can cause severe problems. So both Macs and Windows PCs need virus protection. Wesleyan provides anti-virus software from Sophos to students currently enrolled.

 

Go to (on campus ONLY) http://csit.nebrwesleyan.edu/sites/csit.nebrwesleyan.edu/files/SophosAntivirus.exe to get the Windows installer. The guide is here.

 

Go to (on campus ONLY) http://csit.nebrwesleyan.edu/sites/csit.nebrwesleyan.edu/files/Sophos_Antivirus_for_OS_X.sitx to get the Mac OS X installer (you’ll need Stuffit Expander). The guide is here.

 

The threat of spyware and adware (tiny programs that gather information, display popups, record your web habits, and sometimes even hack your computer) is different than viruses in several ways. Often, these are user-installed with some “free” program (this is adware) that uses ads to support itself. Adware is the least dangerous, but can still be annoying.

 

Spyware is a different problem entirely. It ranges from annoying popups, spam programs that turn your computer into a threat to other machines, and even programs that collect your passwords for the author of the program, in a sort of automatic hacking of your web, email, and even bank or credit card account. Spyware (also called “malware”) is pretty nasty, so it is best to clean it out often.

 

Wesleyan provides links to two free removal programs on our downloads page (available on-campus ONLY) here. It is recommended that you use both of these programs regularly and that you update frequently so that the newest threats can be tracked.

 

One of them, Ad-Aware, is a free program that is excellent for removing tens of thousands of known spyware programs. The guide to using it can be found in the following section . Ad-Aware’s free version does not scan automatically or block incoming spyware (unlike the Plus and Professional copies).

 

The other program, Spybot: Search and Destroy includes the ability to block spyware before it comes in. However, its database of known (thus removable) spyware programs is smaller. Thus, it is best used in conjunction with Ad-Aware.

 

Running both antivirus scans and spyware removal tools regularly is part of responsible computer use. Viruses and spyware are malicious enough that not only will they impair your computer experience, but it makes your computer a security threat to others on the local network and internet.

 

A simple plan to stay clear of viruses and spyware is to choose a day of the week (or month, if you rather), and run the scans over night. Most of the removal tools collect a list of threats without needing to be watched while running. When you wake up, the viruses and spyware will have been hunted down, and after you hit the “remove” button, your computer will be spic and span!

 

Spyware Information and Instructions for Windows

 

Spyware is a common problem on Windows PCs today. By just connecting to the internet, your computer can accumulate spyware (programs, both legitimate and mischievous, that are installed or run without your knowing) that can do anything from collecting information on your web browsing habits, displaying popup windows (whether or not you are in a web browser), and recording your password for identity theft.

 

Since there are tens of thousands of spyware programs, they are virtually impossible to filter out by hand. That is where software like Ad-Aware come in handy. Virtually any Windows computer attached to the internet will accumulate at least a small amount of spyware. Your computer might already have some! Since the Ad-Aware program does not take up computer resources (and very little hard drive space), it is good to have and run occasionally.

 

Signs of serious spyware infection include the computer being more sluggish than usual (in worst-case scenarios, almost impossible to interact with) and copious pop-up windows that never seem to go away. There is a cure and here is how to apply it!

 

Step 1

 

Download Ad-Aware from the NWU Downloads page here (On campus only) or http://www.lavasoft.com/ Run the provided setup utility. Preferably, do this soon after you plug in your computer to the network to get ahead of the problem.

 

Step 2

 

Run Ad-Aware. If it asks you to update definitions and/or update the application, do so. Like with viruses, the protection from spyware is only as good as it is recent. After the program is fully launched, you will see a window like this

 

(Click image to enlarge):

adwarefrontpage

 

Choose the Start button in the lower right corner.

 

Step 3

 

You will see a window like this (click image to enlarge):

 

adwarescanpage3

 

Choose “Smart Scan” (if you are in a hurry) or “Full Scan” (safe bet, catches the most spyware). Click the “Next” button. The scan will begin and you will see a detailed progress window (click image to enlarge):

 

Depending on the speed of your computer, its hard drive size, and the load the spyware puts on the system, this scan can take a while. As long as the “Items Scanned” counter keeps going up, it is best left alone.

 

Step 4

 

You will see a final tally of the spyware found on your computer. In this example, the infestation was fairly mild (32 critical items). In severe cases, the number of spyware problems are in the thousands!

 

Now click “Next” for a list of all spyware programs found. Right click on one of them and a menu will come up offering many choices of what to do (click image to enlarge):

adwaredeletepage

 

“Select All Objects” will target all spyware.

 

Step 5

 

When you click “Next,” a confirmation window will ask if you really want to remove the spyware items. Click “Yes.” A progress bar will appear as the items are dealt with. Some tricky pieces of spyware will require the removal program to disable them, and you must reboot your computer to actually get rid of them. If this occurs you will be notified and Ad-Aware will run automatically when you reboot.

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