Five Ways You Keep the University Secure Part Two: Protect Your Devices

December 10, 2019

by UNH IT Staff

Photo of a smart phone with a lock on the screen courtesy of Flickr
 

This article is part two of a five-part series on Five Ways You Help Keep the University Secure. In this article, we discuss the importance of protecting your devices.

Protecting your devices is akin to securing your home. We have locks on the doors and windows. We may decide to take extra steps for protection like installing an alarm system, using doorbell cameras, and locking valuables up in a safe inside the house. When we aren't there, we lock the doors and windows to keep people out and don't let just anyone inside our homes. 

While no one would confuse a home with a computer or smartphone, if you adhere to the same mindset and take a few preventative security measures, you'll be less apt to expose the University's or your data to cybercriminals. 

Install Anti-Malware Software on Your Computer

The National Institute of Standards and Technology defines malware as "a computer program that is covertly placed onto a computer with the intent to compromise the privacy, accuracy, or reliability of the computer's data, applications, or operating system." (source: https://csrc.nist.gov/glossary/term/malware). 

Malware takes all shapes and forms, including Trojans, spyware, adware, keyloggers, rootkits, ransomware, backdoors, viruses, and worms. Some types of malware can infect a device without the user doing anything or knowing it is there. To combat malware, you should install anti-malware software on all of your computers and that it is updated regularly. 

Think of anti-malware as a highly trained guard dog for your house. This dog knows who to trust and allow access, and who should be kept out. If the dog is unsure of someone's identity, it will use critical characteristics to determine whether the person can be trusted.

Anti-malware software works the same way. It uses definitions and signatures – key characteristics - to determine if programs and applications are safe for your computer. 

Malware is ever-evolving, as cybercriminals either create or modify existing malicious programs to access the data on your computer. When you update your anti-malware software, as it helps ensure you have the latest definitions to protect against the newest threats. Most anti-malware software automatically updates once or more a day. To ensure your devices are protected, confirm this software is regularly receiving updates.

Download and Install Updates

Computer vulnerabilities are computer bugs that negatively impact the security of your device. Updating your computer's operating system and software programs not only provides the latest and greatest functionality, but it also protects your device from vulnerabilities. 

Unlike computer bugs, which impairs computer functionality, vulnerabilities provide ways for cybercriminals to infiltrate devices and networks to steal data, cause damage, and make money. 

To keep your computer protected from vulnerabilities, enable automatic updates on your operating system, and install every available software update as soon as it becomes available.

Encrypt Portable Electronic Devices 

Portable electronic devices such as laptops, smartphones, and tablets make it easy to turn any space into an office. Unfortunately, the portability is what makes these devices vulnerable. 

If you use a laptop or tablet at UNH or home, you are likely storing information on that device every time you use it. For personal devices, it might be your tax return or your bank statement. On a UNH laptop, it could be information about students or employees. 

Device encryption converts electronic information or data into code and requires a security key for access. It helps protect your device by making the information stored on it unreadable to unauthorized persons. If your device is encrypted, it won't matter if your device is lost or stolen. If they don't have the encryption key, it'll serve as little more than a paperweight. For more information about encryption or to schedule assisted encryption on your computer, please contact UNH Information Security Services.

Don't Use Public Wi-Fi

For a world increasingly reliant on internet access, many businesses, including airports, coffee shops, and restaurants provide free public wireless networks for their customers. But, while public Wi-Fi is convenient, it should never be considered secure, which means hot spots can be an information security minefield.

Using public Wi-Fi puts your device and the information on it at risk in three primary ways.

First, these networks are not secure. Secure connections are encrypted, and most public Wi-Fi connections do not provide encryption. And don't make the mistake of thinking that password-protect public Wi-Fi means it is safe. Companies that require passwords are just trying to limit access to their customers. This password-protected network does not provide you, your device, or the information on your device with any additional protection.

Second, public Wi-Fi can be a malware delivery superhighway. Connecting to these unsecured networks increases the likelihood your device will be infected by malware because these networks are not secure.

Third, connecting your device to public Wi-Fi is an invitation for hackers on that network to eavesdrop on your online activities. With the right software (which is easy to obtain), anyone connected to that same network can monitor your online activity and steal your information.

If you must use public Wi-Fi, be sure to use a virtual private network (VPN), which will encrypt the traffic between your device and the web. Also, check to be sure your anti-malware software is current. 

Enable Screen Locks, Find My Device, and Remote Wipe

If your portable device is lost or stolen, the finder/thief can access all of the information stored on it. To prevent this from happening, enable screen locks. Devices vary, but most allow you to set up a screen lock, which is unlocked using a code, fingerprint, or face recognition. 

Enabling the Find My Device option will allow you to track the device’s location should it get lost or stolen. You can proactively set up the remote wipe on your device, which enables you to erase all of the information stored on it in the event your device is lost forever. 

This article concludes part two. Next month, we’ll discuss how to avoid phishing. 

 

 

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