Safety in Technology

Nowadays we often spend a large portion of our lives using technology, whether it is in the classroom, in the computer lab, on our personal computers, or even on our phones.  There are many benefits to our easy access to computers and technology, but there are also some risks.  Here are some ideas and guidelines to give you an idea of how to keep you and your information safe.

 1. Always log out of public computers.

Whether you just stopped to check your email, catch up on facebook, or post to twitter, it’s important to remember to log out when you’re done.  Many website log you in and leave you logged in indefinitely (until you or someone else logs you out) on that system.  That means anyone can prank you with fake emails / posts, read your messages, or possibly even access your private data.  So keep it safe!  Always log out if other people have access to that computer.

One easy way to do this without having to search for the logout button every time is to use your browser’s privacy mode.  That way any open email, social networking, or other site that you were connected to will be logged out and no records saved on the computer when you close the browser window.  To do this in Chrome, click the wrench in the top right and choose “open new incognito window” or press Ctrl-Shift-N.  For Firefox, click on the “firefox” button in the top left and choose “start private browsing,” or press Ctrl-Shift-P.  Hotkeys may vary between operating systems.

2. Be Smart With Your Passwords

Being smart with your passwords is more than just not giving your password to anyone who asks (which you certainly shouldn’t do!).  It also includes choosing good passwords and storing them safely.

A key part of being smart with your passwords is to choose a good one!  It doesn’t matter how well you hide and protect your password, if it is easy to guess ( like your name, “password”, or a pet’s name),  you’ve already lost.  The “strength” of a password (or how hard it is to guess or calculate) depends on number of primary factors including: length (how many characters are used), complexity – use of numbers and special characters (such as !@#$%^&, etc), and variety (where possible, use different password for each site or application).  The very best passwords are long, random combinations of capital and lowercase letters mixed with numbers and special characters.  But who can remember those?  That just leads to other bad password habits (next paragraph!).  Instead, choose a word or better yet a phrase that you can remember easily, and modify it so that it differs from the dictionary spelling, using numbers and special characters where possible.  And finally, don’t use the same password everywhere!  Think about it – it just takes one slip-up (and it doesn’t have to be your fault), but once someone has your password, they can access every single site you’ve used that password on.  Kind of scary huh?  So always use different password – especially when banking!

Once you’ve decided upon a strong, memorable password, the next step is to keep it safe.  You can have the best password in the world, but if it’s written on a post-it note under your keyboard, you might as well give it away.  Remember that your password is the key to your information, so especially with banking passwords, keep your password as safe as your money!  Don’t keep it written down near your computer, and if possible don’t write it down at all.  That’s why we want passwords that are both complex and easy to remember, and different for each site you log into.  If someone finds your facebook password, you don’t want them to make “Joe was here!” posts AND access your bank accounts!  If you need to have the passwords in a safe place, you can write them down and store them in a safe place (like a safe), or a virtual safe – find a password management program, but be sure it requires a password to access your other passwords!  Basically – just be smart when it comes to how you use your password!

3. Be Careful What Information You Share

It’s great to be able to share photos with family and friends and to be able to interact with the people we know and / or care about with the click of a mouse.  Unfortunately, this often comes at a cost.  Do you know how much personal information is being shared?  Can a complete stranger find your photo, phone number, or even address on facebook?  If you have children, what about their information?  Are you inadvertently telling strangers what your kids look like, what their names are, and where they go to school?  That’s why its important to be safe and careful with our information.

Always be aware of what you’re posting or sharing, and what privacy settings apply.  A number of people just discovering facebook have found out the hard way – what you post on someone’s wall is NOT private!  oops!  So what are you sharing, and where are you sharing it?

A second concern is not about how private the information is, but how it looks to future employers.  Today, a large number of employers will look up prospective employees on social networking and other sites to see what kind of person their potential hire is.  Will they be as impressed with your party pictures as your friends are?  Will your status updates about skipping class or work inspire them to hire you?  So again, always know what you’re sharing, and who you’re sharing it with!

4. Don’t Forget Physical / Computer Security

It would be wonderful to live in a world where we could leave our cars and homes unlocked without worrying about safety or theft.  We wouldn’t even need locks!  Unfortunately, we don’t live in such a world.  If we’re not careful with our belongings (and sometimes even if we are), things can be lost, things can be stolen.  The first step is, of course, prevention.  Never leave your laptop or smartphone sitting on the table by itself, or walk away from it in the library.  The same goes for flash drives – especially if it has sensitive data stored on it. It is also good to avoid leaving valuables in plain sight of windows at your house or in your car.

Say that despite your best efforts to keep your property secure, someone manages to take off with it anyway.  You can’t guard it all the time.  How easy will it be for them to access your data?  Will your system automatically log you in (or any nefarious persons who access your system)?  Or will they have to know / guess your password to get in?  Is your data (documents, pictures, anything you want to keep private) encrypted?  If not, a knowledgeable thief can fairly easily access / copy all of it.

In our ever-connected world, it is important that we always know what we’re sharing, with whom, and that we protect our sensitive and private information with good physical and password security.  If you have any questions about how you can be more secure, feel free to talk to anyone in the SSW IT Help/Front Desk on the 2nd floor of the SSW building.

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