Halloween might be the big event that comes to mind when you think of October, but it’s also Cyber Security Month. This aims to improve user awareness of safer computing practices. However, many of you have probably never heard of it.

That simply won’t do!

I had a chance to sit down with Ken Forward, IT Security Officer with Memorial University’s Department of Computing and Communications, for some tips on staying safe online.

“We really need to make people understand that security is not about not doing things, but it’s about enabling them to do things safely,” explained Forward.

Number one on Forward’s list is the need to run up-to-date antivirus software—if you’re a Memorial student, there’s no reason not to.

“In addition to covering all computers on campus, Memorial’s McAfee site license allows all students, faculty, staff, and retirees to run the home version of McAfee VirusScan free of charge,” said Forward. Both Windows and Mac versions are available for download—visit www.mun.ca/antivirus for details http://www.mun.ca/its/services/antivirussoftware/index.php.

In my previous columns I’ve discussed the importance of keeping software up to date, and Forward completely agrees, making it number two on his list of tips.

“Today’s malware writers target common third-party add-ons like Java and Adobe Flash, and Windows Update doesn’t patch those items,” said Forward. For a quick and easy health check of those items, Forward recommends users visit the Qualys BrowserCheck website, https://browsercheck.qualys.com/.

Expanding on the topic of passwords, Forward explained why you should use strong and different passwords for all your accounts.

“If a virus or hacker steals one of your passwords, they don’t have the single key to your entire online kingdom.” Given the number of accounts the average user has today that could mean remembering a lot of different passwords. Forward recommends using a reputable password utility like Bruce Schneier’s Password Safe https://www.pwsafe.org/, KeePass http://keepass.info/, or KeePassX https://www.keepassx.org/.

Fourth is not clicking on links in spam and phishing emails. “Clicking an untrusted link is a sure way to get compromised,” said Forward. “If it doesn’t look plausible at all, simply delete it.”

And for those things that could be real, like Facebook or LinkedIn updates, Forward still advises not clicking.

“Open up your browser and go directly to the website. If you really do have updates waiting, you’ll find them; and if you don’t, congratulations, you probably just avoided a virus.”

The mention of Facebook brings us to our final security tip of this column.

“Please think twice about all the stuff you post online,” said Forward. “Every social networking site has different privacy settings. Learn to adjust those settings so you don’t inadvertently share more than you intended with the entire world. Also remember that employers read Facebook as well. Those hilarious photos when you’re nineteen might actually work against you when you’re a twenty-four year old grad trying to find work.”

For more helpful hints about staying safe online, check out https://www.getcybersafe.gc.ca, https://staysafeonline.org/, and https://stopthinkconnect.org/.

Safe computing everyone!

This article first appeared in Memorial University’s student newspaper: The Muse http://themuse.ca/2012/10/24/celebrate-cyber-security/

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