October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and SMU’s Office of Information Technology (OIT) is working overtime to raise the profile of computer threats and what users can do to block them. In this article, Rachel Mulry, assistant director of the OIT Service Desk, offers information you can use to protect your own desktop.
The responsibility of protecting University data is shared among all of us. All IT staff work diligently to ensure that our network and services are delivered and supported while adhering to security best practices. No matter how secure our network environment or service environment is, it can all be negated by one careless mistake.
Each of us, no matter what our role at SMU, possesses an account with a password that grants access to the network and various IT services. Each account, if it falls into the wrong hands, could threaten the security of our University network and data. Each of us needs to be vigilant in guarding our account ID and password and ensuring that it is adequately protected.
You can increase the security of your password by following these guidelines:
- Use a strong password or passphrase that does not include personal data such as the name of your spouse or child, birthdates, pet names, etc.
- Do not use the same password for your SMU account and other online accounts (Amazon, Yahoo!, etc).
- Change your password regularly
- Never write your password down
- Never share your password with anyone
Ensuring that your computer is adequately protected is also an important component in data security. A desktop or laptop that is compromised by a virus, spyware or other means could allow an unauthorized user to gain access to your account information or to the files you possess. This applies not only to a work computer, but to your home computer and mobile devices as well.
Regardless of what type of computer or mobile device you possess, please do the following:
- Ensure that the software (including operating system as well as application) is updated with all available security patches
- Ensure that the system is protected with an active antivirus and antispyware application
- Ensure that the device is always protected with a login and screensaver password
- Ensure that any device sharing files is appropriately configured to ensure only authorized individuals are able to access the data
Finally, we all need to be careful of the data that we have in our possession in hard copy. Printed documents with sensitive information can easily fall into the wrong hands. Please be sure that all documents and sensitive files are secured in locked cabinets and never left lying around on a desk or office. When you create backup media of the data from your computer, ensure that that media is also secured and protected.
There is always a delicate balance between security and convenience. IT makes every effort to ensure that we are implementing security measures according to best practices as long as they are in the best interest of the customers and the University. Remember, the protection of University information is a shared responsibility. Please pay attention to password security, desktop and computer security, and the physical security of your office environment at all times.
OIT will present a number of workshops and events focused on increasing awareness of computer security issues, including identity theft, password security, phishing, spyware, worms and desktop security. For the complete schedule of events, visit the Office of Information Technology website.