As a Technical Support Representative (TSR), I have seen a major increase in the amount of support requests related to spyware, malware, adware, or a regular virus. The Information and Communications System department (ICS) takes great care to protect computers and data from malicious and illegal activities. The Church has gone to great lengths to implement firewalls, antivirus software, intrusion detection systems, and so on.
That said, you can include certain daily practices to help mitigate the possibility of your computer being compromised.
I will discuss four habits that would make our computer environments safer at work and home.
Installing Software Carefully
Often we find ourselves installing programs that help us perform a function in our job but that are not provided by our organization or department. This includes freeware such as alternative Web browsers and FTP clients. Many open source and freeware software companies partner together to promote each other’s products. While one program is installed, by default another program such as Google’s or Yahoo’s Web toolbars may be installed. You must manually remove the check mark at the proper point in the installation in order to not have this software installed. By inadvertently installing software on our computers we open ourselves up to other problems such as slow performance problems and adware, spyware, or even malware. This can potentially be a very serious problem and increases unnecessary calls for support.
If you need to install a program, make sure that you read each screen carefully and know exactly what you are installing. If you have any doubt, please contact your support group.
Avoiding Risky Web Sites
Have you ever gone to a Web site that you are not familiar with while looking for something specific and ended up getting more than you bargained for? Maybe you were attacked by a million pop-up windows with annoying advertisements, or worse, inappropriate material. Have you ever gone to a Web site and shortly after found that you had a virus? This happens every day. You have been a victim of a drive-by installation of malware.
There is not a 100% solution to prevent this from happening to you while surfing the Internet; however, you can use a few techniques to reduce the risk of ending up at Web sites like this:
- When you manually type an address into your browser, make sure you type it correctly. Many sites have the same name but a different domain, such as www.providentliving.org and www.providentliving.com. One is a Church owned site, and the other is a commercial site.
- If you use a search engine to look for something, try to be as specific as possible. Before you click a link that looks like a match, read the Web address and the brief explanation to make sure it is relevant. If you don’t recognize the address or it sounds suspicious, don’t go to it. It is better to be safe than sorry.
- Ask coworkers or friends to refer you to a Web site. Chances are someone close to you has already researched that subject and knows where to go.
Many viruses are spread through the use of e-mail. Many e-mail virus authors are master marketers. They use subject lines that many of us can’t resist looking into. Some use love, money, or other things that pique our interest enough to open the message and unknowingly launch a small program that infects our computer. It can sometimes automatically spread itself by going through our address books and sending itself to everyone in it. This type of virus is called a worm and has wreaked havoc in many homes, businesses, and institutions around the world.
A good rule of thumb to follow is “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Trust your instincts. If you get that feeling that something about an e-mail message doesn’t feel right, don’t open it. Just delete it. You should be leery even if it is from a friend or family member. They may have been infected and unaware that the virus is sending itself to you. You can call or send an e-mail message to the sender to verify that the message was intentionally sent to you.
The biggest red flag comes when you get an e-mail message with an attachment from someone you are not familiar with. Delete this message. By following these precautions you will greatly reduce the opportunity ill-willed people have to infect and compromise your computer.
Locking Your Workstation
This scenario might sound familiar. You have been working on a task for most of the morning, and you are five minutes late for your lunch appointment. You finish up the last phone call and rush off to meet your friends for Chinese food. When you get back to work you find your computer turned off and a note on your monitor asking you to see your manager. While you were at lunch, someone sat down at your computer and attempted to access some inappropriate material on the Internet. The Web content filtering software caught it and saw a pattern of several attempts to different blacklisted sites in a period of a couple of minutes. An e-mail message was automatically sent to IT and management notifying them of the attempted breach in corporate security policy. When someone arrived at your desk, they found your computer unlocked and no one there. Your manager has some serious concerns.
Even though you are not the one that viewed those sites, you can still be held accountable for what happens on your computer. While this scenario might not happen every day, it does happen. It might not be an inappropriate site; instead it may be someone using your network credentials to access sensitive or confidential files from your computer. All of this could have been prevented if you had simply locked your workstation before you left for lunch. Always lock your workstation when your computer is not in your direct line of site.
We all have a responsibility to protect ourselves and others. Follow these simple steps to do your part in keeping information secure at work and at home.