Campus Computing- Part 1

24 Aug

Students across the United States are returning to college in the next few weeks. It goes without saying that computers are an integral part of every college student’s life. Facebook, games, music and even research are done on these machines. Many college students have their own computer for the first time, and many do not know that steps need to be taken in order to protect their investment. The Campus Computing series on Digital Frontier focuses on explaining problems people face while using computers in a college setting. Everything from protecting against malware, tips for social network usage, copyright laws, online banking and useful software will be covered in this four part series.


Most people know that with the incredible access to information on the internet, there comes a few pitfalls. Besides the problem of finding information that is actually correct, the most important issue users face is that of malware. Malware is a term that encompasses spyware, adware, viruses, trojan horses, rootkits and other computer attacks. Invariably, computers can become infected by any number of computer attacks while doing things as innocuous as reading email and visiting your favorite webpages.

Click “more” to find more great information to protect yourself while on the computer.

Tips to protect yourself from getting malware:

  1. Only open email attachments that are from people you trust and contain attachments you are expecting. The email attachment attack vector is still as useful as it was when email first started.
  2. Visit websites you know as friendly. Porn sites, software piracy sites, and sites with these five most dangerous domains: .hk; .cn; .ph; .ro; .ru can download malware to your computer without you even knowing it.
  3. Using file-sharing services like limewire, kazaa, bittorrent or similar can exponentially increase your chances of getting malware. An attacker will attach a malicious, invisible file to a popular song, movie or picture in order to increase the chance that the malware gets on a ton of computers.
  4. Avoid some free software. Only download from websites you trust., university-hosted download sites and a few others are ones you can generally trust. Penn State’s repository of free software and its repository of open source software can be found here and here respectively.
  5. Follow common sense. If you think a link you click or a site you visit might be dangerous, it probably is. If a website has lots of pop-ups use the Ctrl + F4 key combo to close the open windows. Reputable websites don’t need pop-up ads to support themselves, they use advertisement services through other services like Google to generate revenue.
  6. If something on a webpage says that it has detected a virus and that you should “click here” to download anti-virus software, don’t. If the website has not already downloaded malicious malware onto your computer, clicking the “click here” will leave you wide open for an attack. If you are really worried, download and install the software I have listed below to detect and remove malware.
  7. If you run Windows XP, do not use the computer logged in as the administrator. Instead, create a second account which you use daily. If you are logged in as the administrator, the chances of malware being installed without your knowledge is much greater. For those running Windows Vista, the UAC notifies the user every time something in the system changes which negates having to use a non-administrator account.

Programs to detect and remove spyware:

  1. Spybot Search and Destroy (Free) Warning: clicking on “Free” begins the download.
  2. Ad-Aware (Free) Warning: clicking on “Free” begins the download.
  3. Anti-Virus Software (most schools have a version of anti-virus software that they distribute for free to their students. Penn State students should visit here to download Symantec Anti-Virus Corporate Edition for free.)

Note: Do not run any combination of these three programs at the same time. Doing so can increase the chance that malware may not be detected and/or removed.

Social Networks

A hallmark of college life is that of Facebook. Facebook is billed as “a social utility that connects you with the people around you.” As a social network, Facebook offers a way for people to get into contact with others through a network of friends. Since users are interconnected with everyone on the social network, there are inherent risks. It is important to protect yourself while using Facebook, Myspace and other services. By default, most security and privacy settings are very liberal and permit anyone to look at your information, pictures and other data. It goes without saying that having information flowing around the internet about someone can be very damaging. People who have gone to job interviews have been turned down for the job because of what the interviewer has seen on their Facebook page. The risk of identity theft is also incredibly high. All that a thief requires is your name and birthday in order to open bank accounts, produce fake IDs and do other deeds in your name. The following is a list of websites that show you how to lock down your accounts with different social networks to protect yourself and your identity. Only you can decide what other people have access to on your account, but I recommend locking profiles down tight so only your accepted friends and contacts can access them.

  • Facebook
  1. Recommended privacy settings to protect against identity theft.
  2. Facebook’s privacy policy gives you an idea of what they and others may do with your information.
  3. Click here to see my recommended security settings. (Note: I am currently working on this feature.)
  • Myspace
  1. Go to Myspace’s Safety page for more information on settings.
  2. A great article from computer security giant Symantec gives great suggestions for parents of children who use the social network.

Wi-Fi Connections

It came to my attention last year that many apartment complexes employ wireless internet to connect their tenants to the internet. Commercial Wi-Fi solutions like this generally have security built in, but there are no guarantees. If you are instructed to type in a password for the wireless connection when you connect to the router, you are in good shape. If not, I would urge you to contact the owner of the complex to see if they will implement security on their wireless devices. Security is almost always built into every single wireless router and access point, so its not a big deal to just turn the security on. You can check out a press release from the FBI giving some details about Wi-Fi security and how to protect yourself.

The things I mentioned above and in the press release also apply to using public Wi-Fi access points in airports, coffee shops and other public establishments. This article explains Wi-Fi security technology and best practices to ensure safe comping in these kinds of locales.

For those on any Penn State campus use Cisco VPN technology in order to connect to the University’s Wi-Fi network. Universites, companies and government all use VPN because it is the standard in protecting information traveling over external networks.


Please feel free to link this article to friends and share it with whoever. If you have comments/suggestions please leave them in the comments section. I look forward to your input and participation.

1 Comment

Posted by on August 24, 2008 in Security


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One response to “Campus Computing- Part 1

  1. A.Y. Siu

    August 24, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    Some good tips in there.

    I noticed one glaring omission, though: if you’re using Windows XP, don’t run as administrator. Use a limited user account. If you find that inconvenient, install an use SuRun.


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