Cyber Security Tip: Safeguarding Your Data

Cyber Security Tip ST06-008        Safeguarding Your Data

When there are multiple people using your computer and/or you store  sensitive personal and work-related data on your computer, it is especially important to take extra security precautions.

Why isn’t “more” better?

Maybe there is an extra software program included with a program you bought. Or perhaps you found a free download online. You may be tempted to install   the programs just because you can, or because you think you might use them   later. However, even if the source and the software are legitimate, there  may  be hidden risks. And if other people use your computer, there are  additional risks.

These risks become especially important if you use your computer to manage  your personal finances (banking, taxes, online bill payment, etc.), store   sensitive personal data, or perform work-related activities away from the   office. However, there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

How can you protect both your personal and work-related data?

1. Use and maintain anti-virus software and a firewall – Protect yourself against viruses and Trojan horses that may steal or modify the data on  your own computer and leave you vulnerable by using anti-virus software and a firewall (see Understanding Anti-Virus Software and Understanding  Firewalls  for  more  information).  Make  sure to keep your virus definitions up to date.

2. Regularly scan your computer for spyware – Spyware or adware hidden in software programs may affect the performance of your computer and give  attackers access to your data. Use a legitimate anti-spyware program to   scan your computer and remove any of these files (see Recognizing and Avoiding Spyware for more information). Many anti-virus products have incorporated spyware detection.

3.  Keep software up to date – Install software patches so that attackers       cannot  take  advantage  of known problems or vulnerabilities (see       Understanding Patches for more information). Many operating systems  offer automatic updates. If this option is available, you should turn it on.

4.  Evaluate  your  software’s settings – The default settings of most       software enable all available functionality. However, attackers may be able to take advantage of this functionality to access your computer. It is especially important to check the settings for software that connects to the internet (browsers, email clients, etc.). Apply the highest level  of security available that still gives you the functionality you need.

5.  Avoid unused software programs – Do not clutter your computer with       unnecessary software programs. If you have programs on your computer       that  you  do  not use, consider uninstalling them. In addition to       consuming system resources, these programs may contain vulnerabilities       that, if not patched, may allow an attacker to access your computer.

6.  Consider creating separate user accounts – If there are other people       using  your  computer,  you  may  be worried that someone else may       accidentally access, modify, and/or delete your files. Most operating       systems (including Windows XP and Vista, Mac OS X, and Linux) give you       the option of creating a different user account for each user, and you       can set the amount of access and privileges for each account. You may       also  choose  to have separate accounts for your work and personal
purposes. While this approach will not completely isolate each area, it       does offer some additional protection. However, it will not protect your       computer against vulnerabilities that give an attacker administrative       privileges. Ideally, you will have separate computers for work and       personal use; this will offer a different type of protection.

7.  Establish guidelines for computer use – If there are multiple people       using your computer, especially children, make sure they understand how       to  use  the  computer and internet safely. Setting boundaries and       guidelines will help to protect your data (see Keeping Children Safe       Online for more information).

8.  Use passwords and encrypt sensitive files – Passwords and other security       features add layers of protection if used appropriately (see Choosing       and  Protecting  Passwords  and  Supplementing  Passwords for more       information). By encrypting files, you ensure that unauthorized people
can’t view data even if they can physically access it. You may also want       to consider options for full disk encryption, which prevents a thief       from  even starting your laptop without a passphrase. When you use       encryption, it is important to remember your passwords and passphrases;       if you forget or lose them, you may lose your data.

9. Follow  corporate  policies  for handling and storing work-related       information – If you use your computer for work-related purposes, make       sure to follow any corporate policies for handling and storing the       information.  These  policies  were  likely established to protect       proprietary information and customer data, as well as to protect you and       the company from liability. Even if it is not explicitly stated in your       corporate policy, you should avoid allowing other people, including       family members, to use a computer that contains corporate data.

10. Dispose of sensitive information properly – Simply deleting a file does       not completely erase it. To ensure that an attacker cannot access these       files,  make  sure  that you adequately erase sensitive files (see       Effectively Erasing Files for more information).

11. Follow good security habits – Review other security tips for ways to       protect yourself and your data.
Author: Mindi McDowell   Produced 2006 by US-CERT, a government organization.

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