Security Best Practices

Professional Services Management Ouderkirk, Jennifer VCIO Professional ServicesBy Jennifer Ouderkirk
Virtual CIO
Trivalent Group, Inc.

Password Security

Your computer password is your best defense against damaging intrusions. Without a well-chosen password or set of passwords, any other security measures protecting your data are greatly weakened. Never share your passwords with anyone. The most frequent password mistakes made include choosing an obvious password or writing down the password near your computer.

You can avoid creating an insecure password by making sure it meets these requirements:

  • Has eight characters at a minimum. However, it is better to make your password as long as you can. In general, the longer and more complex a password, the longer it takes to determine what the password is and thus the more secure it is.
  • Uses a mixture of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and special characters such as ‘~!@#$%^}\|`”;:,/?.
  • Is not based on any obvious items of personal information (e.g., PID, Social Security number, street address, middle name, etc.)
  • Does not use words or combinations of words that could be found in a dictionary, but especially an English dictionary (e.g., “TarHeels”).
  • Uses a specially crafted sequence of characters for unusual phrases that you invent. An example would be the password “~2myuT$!” for “About 2 more years until tenure salary!”
  • Is changed often. If you change your password every 90 days, then the chances of your password being cracked are greatly diminished.
  • Is not the same password used for other accounts. Do not use a password for more than one account, and do not base your password on an easily guessed pattern. If your password is discovered and it is also discovered that you used an easily guessed pattern to make the password, then your other passwords may also be at risk.

When it comes to physical password security, never record your password anywhere close to the computer (on post-its, pull-out trays in desks, inside drawers, under shelves, etc.).  You can use a password-protected database or password keeper tool so that you can look up passwords.

Physical Security

Even the most secure password can be compromised if you step away from your computer while logged in. Make sure that you always limit incidental access to your machine by logging off your computer when you leave the room and by locking your office or room. You can also use a screen saver password to lock your computer so that only you can unlock it.

You should never forget that your computer equipment is also a target for thieves. Remember to physically secure your laptop and any other easily portable device when not at your desk.

Effective Antivirus Protection

Outside of a good password, constant antivirus protection is one of the most critical components of a secure computer system. Viruses can easily cause your system data to be compromised, and their destructive influence is devastating. A managed antivirus tool that provides automatic updates and scanning is the most effective.

Do not ever deactivate or uninstall your antivirus software because you think it slows your computer down or clutters your system. Although antivirus software may in fact slow down your computer a negligible amount, it rarely affects the overall performance of your system and the protection it provides is immeasurable.

Setting Up a Firewall

A firewall is a barrier between your computer and the Internet through which only certain kinds of information can pass. Your computer network should have a firewall in place to protect it.

Web Vigilance — Trust No One

In order to protect your own personal privacy, we can’t stress enough that you remain vigilant and protective of your passwords and other personal information. Many individuals assume that hackers will never go after them and their information. However, it is crucial to understand that hackers simply look for computers that are easy to crack and can be used for the hacker’s own purposes. By simply having a good password, you severely reduce the risk of getting hacked. Given the choice, hackers will attempt to break into the system that is easiest to exploit. Having a strong password is a good way to help prevent that.

In addition, never give out your credit card numbers, Social Security number, or any other personal information on an unfamiliar site or a site that isn’t secured by SSL encryption. Look for the lock icon in your web browser to make sure.

Programs on websites can also potentially compromise your computer, so you should completely trust such a program before allowing it to run.

Email Concerns

Never open attachments sent by a stranger. In general, it’s a safer bet never to open any attachment if it’s only “funny” or entertaining. These kinds of attachments frequently double as a Trojan horse or ransomware which can be very destructive.  Even if you recognize the sender, if it is not an attachment you were expecting, make sure it’s valid before you open it.  If you get a link to log in to a web page, instead of clicking on the link, go to the web page and open/log in there (e.g., LinkedIn invitations).

It is also a good idea to create a separate, web-based free email account to receive junk mail and other unnecessary email. Never respond to unsolicited email because doing so may confirm your existence to a spam-mail provider.  A spam filter can help with blocking junk mail and senders and determine the true sender.

More Information

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