Safe Computing Tips

If you have not followed some of these tips before, this information can function as a security checklist. For instructions on how to implement these steps, follow the “learn more” links.

Top 10 safe computing tips

1. Patch, Patch, PATCH!
Set up your computer for automatic software and operating system updates. An unpatched machine is more likely to have software vulnerabilities that can be exploited.

2. Install protective software.

Sophos is available as a free download for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux from IS&T’s software page. When installed, the software should be set to scan your files and update your virus definitions on a regular basis.

3. Choose strong passwords.

Choose strong passwords with letters, numbers, and special characters to create a mental image or an acronym that is easy for you to remember. Create a different password for each important account, and change passwords regularly.

4. Backup, Backup, BACKUP!

Backing up your machine regularly can protect you from the unexpected. Keep a few months’ worth of backups and make sure the files can be retrieved if needed. Learn more about TSM and how to backup your system.

5. Control access to your machine.

Don’t leave your computer in an unsecured area, or unattended and logged on, especially in public places – including Athena clusters and Quickstations. The physical security of your machine is just as important as its technical security.

6. Use email and the Internet safely.

Ignore unsolicited emails, and be wary of attachments, links and forms in emails that come from people you don’t know, or which seem “phishy.” Avoid untrustworthy (often free) downloads from freeware or shareware sites. Learn more about spam filtering.

7. Use secure connections.

When connected to the Internet, your data can be vulnerable while in transit. Use remote connectivity and secure file transfer options when off campus.

8. Protect sensitive data.

Reduce the risk of identity theft. Securely remove sensitive data files from your hard drive, which is also recommended when recycling or repurposing your computer. Use the encryption tools built into your operating system to protect sensitive files you need to retain.

9. Use desktop firewalls.

Macintosh and Windows computers have basic desktop firewalls as part of their operating systems. When set up properly, these firewalls protect your computer files from being scanned.

10. Most importantly, stay informed.

Stay current with the latest developments for Windows, Macintosh Linux, and Unix systems. IS&T provides a news page and we recommend that those interested subscribe to the IS&T Security-FYI electronic newsletter.

Protecting a computer vs. safe computing behavior

You can see from the list above that safe computing practices include a combination of how you physically or technically protect your computer by using software and security settings, and the actions you take. You need both to really make a difference. If you consistently use strong passwords, but then leave your computer unlocked and unattended in public places, you are still putting your data in jeopardy. If you use anti-virus software but aren’t careful about replying to or forwarding suspicious looking emails, you still risk spreading a virus.


Protecting sensitive data is the end goal of almost all IT security measures. Two strong arguments for protecting sensitive data are to avoid identity theft and to protect privacy.

The improper disclosure of sensitive data can also cause harm and embarrassment to students, faculty, and staff, and potentially harm the reputation of the Institute. Therefore, it is to everyone’s advantage to ensure that sensitive data is protected.

1. Data security is fundamental

Data security is crucial to all academic, medical and business operations at MIT. All existing and new business and data processes should include a data security review to be sure MIT data is safe from loss and secured against unauthorized access.

2. Plan ahead

Create a plan to review your data security status and policies and create routine processes to access, handle and store the data safely as well as archive unneeded data. Make sure you and your colleagues know how to respond if you have a data loss or data breach incident.

3. Know what data you have

The first step to secure computing is knowing what data you have and what levels of protection are required to keep the data both confidential and safe from loss.

4. Scale down the data

Keep only the data you need for routine current business, safely archive or destroy older data, and remove it from all computers and other devices (smart phones, laptops, flash drives, external hard disks).

5. Lock up!

Physical security is the key to safe and confidential computing. All the passwords in the world won’t get your laptop back if the computer itself is stolen. Back up the data to a safe place in the event of loss.


Protecting Devices

An unprotected computer or computerized device that holds data is especially vulnerable to cyber attacks, spam, or other threats that can compromise a user’s identity or undermine the security of the computer’s hardware and the information it contains.

Even before you arrive on campus, make sure that your computer will be as safe as possible from viruses and other malicious programs that are rampant on the Internet and that you are applying best practices when using computer technology. Tools and resources are available from IS&T, many of them free, to ensure you have a layered defense against many of the threats to your computer and the information it contains.

STOP – Security Tracking of Office Property

Laptops and some other small electronic devices can be tagged with the STOP tag. This loss prevention measure is a visual deterrent to stealing electronic devices. Each item tagged costs $10 cash. Tech Cash is not accepted. See the schedule and further information.


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