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Computer Security Recommendations

Many new computers ship with very poor default security, which can become hazardous when they are connected to the Internet. This page is intended to provide you with some basic steps you can take to increase the security of your laptop. Several of these suggestions come from the U-M Virus Busters computer security recommendations.

No single product can provide total security; different tools stop different threats. If you implement the suggestions below to add multiple layers of security, your machine will be a lot more difficult to compromise. However, there are tradeoffs between computer security and usability; the only way to truly protect your computer is not to use it at all, which is not really an option. You need to find a balance you can live with.

Before Connecting to the Internet for the First Time

After Connecting to the Internet

Before Connecting to the Internet for the First Time

Use a Secure Password
Select strong, secure passwords for the Administrator account on your computer and for any other accounts that have Administrator privileges. Some suggestions for how to select a good password can be found in Choosing and Changing a Secure UMICH Password (R1162). Don't wait to do this. It is not uncommon to see unprotected machines get infected or hacked within minutes of connecting to the Internet.

CAUTION!

Don't forget or lose your password. If you do, Windows will lock you out of your computer and you will have to re-install the Windows operating system.

A Personal Firewall is Critical
A personal firewall is a very important first line of defense for computer security as it creates a protective barrier between your computer and the Internet, allowing only approved traffic through. This helps prevent hackers and some viruses from connecting to your computer.

Microsoft Windows includes a built-in Windows Firewall that is turned on by default. You do not have to use Microsoft's Windows Firewall -- you can install and run any firewall that you choose. Evaluate the features of other firewalls and then decide which firewall best meets your needs. However, if you choose to install and run another firewall, turn off Windows Firewall. Never use two software firewalls at the same time.

Make Sure your Computer is Virus-free BEFORE installing antivirus software
Use a free tool from Network Associates called Stinger (for Windows only) to scan your computer for viruses. Stinger can only detect and remove, not protect. But using it first can make installing regular antivirus software (which CAN protect) much easier.

To install Stinger without connecting to the Internet, download Stinger (http://vil.nai.com/vil/stinger/) to a flash drive using a computer other than yours known to be virus-free (e.g. the Law School Lower Student Commons). After downloading, take Stinger to your computer and launch the installer. Virus Busters recommends running Stinger after booting in Safe Mode. They also recommend that Windows XP users disable System Restore prior to scanning with Stinger (remember to turn your System Restore back on after using Stinger).

Up-to-date AntiVirus Protection is Critical
Antivirus software helps protect your computer against most viruses, worms, Trojans, and other unwanted software that can infiltrate your PC. It is critical to have antivirus software installed on your computer and configure it to check for updates automatically. Microsoft Security Essentials is configured to regularly check for and install new virus definitions as they become available, when your computer is connected to the Internet.

CAUTION!
  • Before installing any antivirus program, make sure that you don't already have another antivirus program installed. If you do, you should completely remove the installed antivirus software prior to installing the antivirus program you want.


  • Never install and use two antivirus programs at the same time.

The university strongly recommends that you install Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) for Windows or Sophos for Mac (or the antivirus program of your choice) before you connect to the Internet. MSE is free for personal use to all genuine Windows users and can be downloaded from the Microsoft Security Essentials Web site.  U-M students can obtain Sophos free of charge from the Safe Computing Web site.

Security Tip:  Download the anti-virus program from another computer you trust, save to a flash drive, and then install on your computer from the flash drive.  Then connect to the Internet and update the software immediately.

Other Tips for Protection from Viruses
  • DO NOT disable the automatic virus updates
  • DO NOT open email attachments from people you do not know
  • DO NOT open email attachments from people that you know that you didn't expect to receive, even when they appear to be from someone you trust.

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After Connecting to the Internet

Register Laptop with the University of Michigan Police
The University of Michigan Department of Public Safety (DPS) is offering a free Laptop Registration Program to members of the campus community to deter theft and avoid the consequences or assist in the recovery of stolen property. Once you register your laptop, you'll receive two stickers to place on your laptop. These stickers will help serve as a theft deterrent. Additionally, if your laptop is found or recovered, the registration record will help DPS return your laptop to you. Register Laptop with U-M Police

Microsoft Updates
Don't undermine your computer's protection by providing hackers "back doors" to your computer. Updating your operating system (and your applications such as Microsoft Office and Outlook) plugs security holes that hackers are constantly seeking. Check for Microsoft Updates at least once a week to keep your computer up-to-date with security and other bug patches. Do a first check as "close to immediately" as possible after connecting to the Internet.
  1. Use the Windows Update link in the Start menu and wait for Internet Explorer to connect to the Microsoft Update Web site.
  2. Click on Express Install (Recommended): High Priority Updates for Your Computer.
  3. Choose all the critical updates listed and then click Install...
  4. After installation you may have to restart your computer.

    Be sure to repeat the procedure until no new critical updates remain on the list.
If your laptop doesn't have a Windows Update link in the Start menu, you can also access it via your Internet Explorer browser.
  1. Open the Internet Explorer Web Browser.
  2. Click on the Tools menu and select Windows Update.
  3. Microsoft has an agent to automate this. Go to the Control Panel. Click System. Click Automatic Updates.
For more information on Automatic Updates, see Microsoft's Windows Update FAQs.

Other Tips for Protection from Hackers
  • Turn machine off when not in use
  • Password protect your machine
  • DO NOT turn off the firewall
Malware
Adware and spyware are software that secretly monitor your Internet browsing behavior. They are usually used to gather information about you and relay it to advertisers and other interested parties. However, sometimes adware and spyware can adversely affect your computer's performance and may even prevent you from accessing the Law School wireless network.

Adware and/or spyware are something you probably don't want on your computer. Unfortunately, adware/spyware is included in some software packages that you might want and even un-installing the program you want may leave the adware/spyware in place. KaZaA is an example of a product that installs adware (in this case, BDE) surreptitiously.

  • Microsoft Security Essentials (Windows) and Sophos (Mac) are the first line of defense against malware. If you need further help:
  • Stinger: Free software (for personal home use only)used to detect and remove specific viruses. It is not a substitute for full anti-virus protection, but rather a tool to assist users when dealing with an infected system.
  • Malwarebytes: A free anti-malware application (for personal home use only) used to identify and remove malicious software from computers.
  • Spybot -- Search & Destroy: Free software (for personal home use only) that scans hard drives for spyware, adware, hijackers, and other malicious software.
  • Ad-Aware: same type of software as Spybot (also for personal home use only).
If you have a problem with malware, try Stinger first, then Malwarebytes, Spybot - S & D, and lastly try Ad-Aware. Please run them all while booted into Safe Mode. Using all four products seems to detect and eliminate most problems.

Backups are Critical
Part of good security is keeping backups of your important files; multiple backups to flash drive, CD, DVD etc. Backups are inexpensive. Data recovery, on the other hand, is very expensive. Make backups often and check the backups to make sure that they are reliable.

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