Protect...Before You Connect

Keeping the Saint Mary's network safe from attack is the responsibility of all members of the Saint Mary's community, not just Computer and Technology Services. Although there are many counter measures that can be taken on the network management level, the effectiveness of these measures is limited without the cooperation and active involvement of the individual owners of desktop and laptop computers. Attacks can come in the form of viruses and worms, from hackers, and even sometimes from someone you know but would never suspect. In fact, the range of ways attacks are delivered is increasing, and no single measure or set of measures can be totally effective. It takes a defense of several layers that includes the active and on-going participation of each and every computer user in order to reduce the vulnerability of the system to the multiple attacks that occur every day. We all want a network that is fast and always available, but we can only achieve that goal when everyone acts responsibly and takes the measures outlined below.

Basic Desktop Security Guidelines

  • Password Security: Never share your passwords with anyone. Keep in mind that you are responsible for any activities that occur under your login. Never store your password on your computer or on paper, especially on a sticky-note stuck to your monitor! Use strong passwords. Always change any default password issued to you immediately to one of your own choosing. However, do not use obvious or predictable words that can be guessed, like the names of people or pets, or information that can be easily found out, like your address or birthday. Create passwords of at least eight characters that contain at least one number and one special character and/or mixed capitals that are also easy to remember (for example: $tarPer4mEr). Change your passwords on a regular basis, or immediately if you think they may have been compromised.

  • Anti-virus Software: Malware (viruses, worms and Trojans) can cause network slowdown and disruption, corruption or loss of files, e-mail delays and loss, confidential information disclosure and attacks on other computers and networks, such as denial of service attacks. It is a requirement of the Saint Mary's College Technology Use Policy that all personal computers connected to the Saint Mary's network must be protected by up-to-date anti-virus software. You must purchase and install a desktop computer anti-virus software package such as those available from Symantec or McAffe before connecting to the network. The anti-virus package must also come with an update service, and you should update your virus definitions on a weekly basis, if updates are not done automatically by the software.

  • E-mail Attachments: Never open e-mail attachments from someone you don't know. The e-mail may have been sent from an infected computer and contains a virus that can infect your computer. The type of attachment can be a tip. Executable files such as those ending in .exe or .vbs should be especially suspect. Delete any e-mail you suspect may contain a virus. Saint Mary's will sometimes block types of e-mail attachments that are associated with active viruses when the threat level is high. For more information on currently blocked file types and how to work around the block, visit the IT Services web site.

  • Keep your Operating System (OS) up-to-date: It is very important (and a requirement of the Saint Mary's Technology Use Policy) that you install all new patches that fix critical vulnerabilities in your OS as soon as they are available, especially if you are running MS Windows. The time between the publication of a vulnerability and the launch of a virus or worm to take advantage of it is shrinking every day. It is not difficult to keep your OS up-to-date. Your computer can be scanned and patched automatically by a Microsoft website (if you use MS Windows). You can also set up your computer to download patches automatically. Please contact the Service Desk at 925-631-4266 for further information. Patches will usually need to be installed at least monthly.

  • Personal Firewall: Personal Firewall programs are inserted between the personal computer and the connected network, and monitors inbound and outbound internet traffic. It can block unwanted probes and the activities of virus and worms, but if it is not carefully configured, it can also block traffic that is needed by applications you use everyday, including the traffic used to log in to ResNet and the Wireless Zone. The College maintains strong firewalls on the network level, and unless you are sure you know how to properly configure your personnal firewall, it is best at this time to disable it. As of this writing (August 2004), Microsoft is providing a Personal Firewall with the Service Pack 2 patch. This firewall is activated when the patch is applied, but as configured by default, it will block many usefull applications, including the log-in to ResNet and the Wireless Zone. For instructions on how to disable the Windows Firewall, see our web site. IT Services will be testing this firewall and may provide a recommended firewall configuration that will work with all the applications used here on campus sometime in the future.

  • Spyware and Adware: Spyware and Adware are advertising programs that can be downloaded inadvertently when you are browsing the internet. Though not illegal, spyware can disrupt the workings of your computer and can also monitor and report to their owners details of many activities you conduct on your computer. There are also many PC surveillance tools that allow a user to monitor all kinds of activity on a computer, ranging from keystroke capture, snapshots, email logging, chat logging and just about everything else. These tools are often designed for parents, businesses and similar environments, but can be easily abused if they are installed on your computer without your knowledge. Several free resources are available to clean Spyware from your computer, such as those available at c/net's However, you must be sure that the product you pick is not actually a "fake" Spyware remover that in reality installs more spyware or even worse, is a scam. Visit the Spyware Warrior web site for in-depth information on rogue products and legitimate spyware removal tools.

  • Turn it off: Do not keep your computer online when not in use. Either shut the power off or disconnect it from the network by removing the network cable or disabling the wireless card.

  • Backups: Back up your critical files to a secure file server or to removable media at least once a week.


Additional information can be found at:

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Saint Mary's College of California
1928 Saint Mary's Road
Moraga, CA 94575
(925) 631-4000
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