Whether you’re teaching an online or on-ground course, your computer is an indispensable part of your and your students’ everyday lives. Losing the information you’ve stored there is a significant blow to your ability to perform successfully. Begin considering the loss of privacy, security, intellectual property, money, and other data that takes place via hacking, phishing, and other forms of identity theft — as well as the damage done to computers by malware, hackers, and other forms of cyberattack — and you’ll undoubtedly recognize the importance of keeping your computer as safe and secure as can be.

To this end, adopting the following practices, adapted from Kenneth Baldauf and Ralph M. Stair’s Succeeding with TechnologyFourth Edition, can help you protect the valuable information you store on your computer:

  • Set your operating system to download available software updates automatically, if this option is available to you.
  • Be sure that you install—and use—anti-virus, anti-spyware, and firewall software. Enable the automatic update settings in these programs as well.
  • Back up your files! Many software programs and operating systems can help you schedule this process so that it takes place on a regular basis.
  • Use a reliable registry “cleaner” if this software is available for your operating system.
  • Consider using a security suite, such as Windows Live OneCare, that can help you manage all of these tasks and operations.
  • Keep your Web browser’s security settings up to date.
  • Keep your computer, files, and network secure by proper use of encryption, permission settings, and security features.
  • Keep your home wireless network secure by locking down the access points. Disable broadcasting of the service set identifier (SSID), which is your network’s ID. Within the configuration settings, change the password used at the access point from the default to something unique and personal. Furthermore, set the access point so that only computers with specific Media Access Control (MAC) addresses can connect with your wireless network.
  • Reduce the opportunity to be hit by phishing, spam, and other frauds, hoaxes, and security breaches by using and installing spam filters in your email client. (pp. 554-609)

In addition to taking the above actions to ensure your computer’s security, Baldauf and Stair recommend taking these additional precautions:

  • Choose strong passwords. These typically include more than eight characters, as well as a combination of upper- and lower-case letters, symbols, and numbers that don’t form an easily recognizable name or term. Change passwords on a regular basis, and don’t be tempted to use the same password for every account, as this makes it easier for intruders to access the data you’ve stored in many places.
  • Only open attachments from the trusted sources from which you’re expecting them – and even then, be sure to scan the attachments for viruses before downloading.
  • If you receive a direct link via email, type the URL into your browser, rather than click on it. This can protect you from inadvertently ending up on a phishing site, rather than the legitimate site the link purports to represent.
  • Before entering a URL, read it closely to ensure it is correct and appears legitimate. Furthermore, be sure that any form (such as one you’re completing for an online purchase) includes “https://” at the beginning.
  • If at all possible, steer clear of peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing. Threats such as worms can spread readily through file-sharing networks.
  • Download and install software only from reputable sources.
  • Be sure your computer, its software, and your files stay up to date and organized. Keep your most-used files and programs easily accessible on your desktop, delete the programs and files you don’t use, and empty your “Recycle Bin” or “Trash” regularly. Additionally, be sure your files are backed up – whether you use media such as a DVD, external hard drive, or USB drive for storage, or you keep your files “in the cloud” on a remote server.
  • If you receive a “virus alert” via email, don’t send it on to others. These emails are often themselves mischievous or malevolent messages designed to access your personal information. (pp. 554-609)

Though taking on all these steps may seem like a daunting or time-consuming task, careful application of these practices and principles can safeguard your computer from attack and help ensure that your personal information remains personal.

Do you have any additional suggestions for keeping your personal information safe and secure? Share your ideas in the comments section below.

Reference: Baldauf, Kenneth and Stair, Ralph M. 2011. Succeeding with Technology, Fourth Edition. Boston, MA: Course Technology, Cengage Learning.