Security Tips and Tricks

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.

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 that 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.

 

The Mozilla Project provides the fastest, safest, and simplest alternative to Microsoft Internet Explorer. The free program Firefox can do everything you need and does not require much work. You do not have to remove Internet Explorer to use it, but the more you use Firefox instead, the fewer viruses and spyware your computer will pick up.

Located here, 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 or bootleg Broadway performance. 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. However, anti-virus programs are only as good as their virus definition files (which tells the software what viruses are out there and how to get rid of them), so it is important to 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. You can access the Downloads page by clicking here. Once there, you will be able to download Sophos and other things like a VPN. Please note that you will need to log in with your Wesleyan credentials in order to access this page. 

General Information

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 from that of 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. For example, let’s say that your friend wants to show you a really cool bootleg of a Broadway show, and you download the video to watch. At first, nothing seems to happen, but then any number of things could happen. You could get a bunch of pop-up ads every time you open a program, or you might not be able to use any other search engine other than Yahoo. Again, while these symptoms seem less severe than others, adware can typically lead to more serious Malware issues. 


Spyware is a different problem entirely. It ranges from annoying popups, spam programs that turn your computer into a threat to other machines, or 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 is pretty nasty, so it is best to clean your computer out often.

If you do happen to get some Malware on your computer, don’t worry, with your Sophos anti-virus protection installed, you should be able to clear out your computer in no time. However, if you still are encountering issues that seem like a Malware problem, don’t hesitate to contact WITS at 402-465-7777, or come visit us in Smith Curtis 109.