How do I protect my computing devices (#4465)

Ever wonder how I can protect myself from the cyber criminals? The following section provides tips and tricks on how to protect your computers and other computing devices from viruses, thefts, and other threats.

General Best Practice

There are a few general tips for all computer users, whether you are using PCs, Macs, or other platforms.

  • Always use a long password or passphrase
    Longer passwords are always stronger. For example, "I wuv ch33se pizza!" is a better password than "B7%gdA11?s", and it is also easier to remember!
  • Use Antivirus on your computer
    Regardless of the computer, you are using, Antivirus is one of your best defenses against viruses and malware. VCU has a list of free Antivirus software that it recommends for faculty, staff, and students!
  • Use Antispyware / Antimalware software
    In addition to using Antivirus on your computer, you can also run antispyware and antimalware software periodically (weekly or monthly). While this software may not provide you with the real time protection like an Antivirus software, they can catch certain malware or virus that the antivirus software may have missed. A good Antimalware software is Malwarebytes Anti-Malware.
  • Update your Operating System
    Regardless of the computer, you are using, you must make sure that the Operating System (Windows, Mac OS, Ubuntu, etc) are up-to-date. Most operating systems offer easy and sometimes automated ways to patch security vulnerabilities.
  • Update your applications
    Applications like Adobe Acrobat, Flash, Java, and Apple iTunes, Quicktime are prime targets for attackers. It is imperative to check your applications and ensure that they are properly patched. VCU offers LANDesk for the automatic patching of selected applications on VCU workstations and laptops. Qualys Browsercheck can also be used periodically to check for out of date software and plug-ins on your computer. Contact your IT support for additional information.
  • Use Browser Advisor Software
    Many viruses and malware infection can occur when you visit a malicious or infected website. In order to minimize the chance of catching an infection on a bad website and be warned of a website's reputation before visiting the site, a browser advisor software may be used. Web of Trust is a great browser advisor, and it is free!   
  • Don't Leave Your Computer Unattended!
    Thieves usually look for the crime of opportunity. Leaving your computer or other computing devices (Phones, Tablets, etc) unattended in a publicly accessible area (unlocked office, cubicle, classroom, library, etc) will increase the likelihood of it being stolen. A cable lock can be used if a computer must be left in a publicly accessible area, or you can simply take your computer or other computing devices with you when you leave an area.  
  • Lock your computer when you step away
    If you work in an office environment with stationary desktop or laptop computers, you may not want other people to be able to tamper with your computer programs and data when you step away from your desk. Locking a computer where password will be needed to regain access can be used to protect your computer from unauthorized access, especially when you don't have a locking door that can protect your computer. Locking a computer will allow programs continue to operate in the background and causes no disruptions while effectively protecting your computer when you step away.

Platform Specific Best Practices


Information Security Best Practices

As responsible technology users, there are various things we can do to protect the safety and privacy of our information as it is stored on our electronic devices and travels through the Internet. The following tips may help you to ensure the security and privacy of your digital information.

1. Use Antivirus on your computer (View a list of recommended Antivirus software for free at school and at home)

2. Use a long password or passphrase to protect your accounts. Longer passwords are always better (e.g. I Luv Pepperon1 p1zzas!)

3. Keep your electronic device up to date. Update the operating system AND the installed applications such as Java, Adobe Acrobat, and Adobe Flash!

4. Be careful of the phishing and email scams, when in doubt about the legitimacy of an email, visit the VCU PhishingNet or contact the VCU IT Support Center (828 - 2227) for verification.

5. Keep your computers and valuables with you, never leave it unattended in publicly accessible places.

6. Use different password and passcodes for different sites and systems, try a random password generator and password safe for this purpose. (e.g. KeePass is great for this) 

7. Use safe browsing tools such as WOT or McAfee SiteAdvisor to help you identify the bad websites.

8. Encrypt your most sensitive electronic data and files stored on your hard drive, USB drive, MP3 player or other places

9. Encrypt your email communications that may contain sensitive information, including attachments. The VCU email system supports secure and encrypted email. Please see our section on how to encrypt email for more information!

10. Be careful of links you click on Online forums, social media websites, and in emails. Don't always trust the links, even if it is from someone you know.

11. Use an anti-spyware software such as MalwareBytes to periodically scan your computer.

12. Don't post information you deem as private or personal onto the Internet. Remember that what you post on the Internet now can come back and haunt you in a later date. The general rule of thumb is: If you don't want it in the newspaper, then don't post it online.

This article was updated: 12/6/2016