Safe Computer Usage

One facet of responsible behavior is taking steps to protect your safety. The following categorized suggestions will help you do just that. More information on many of these topics may be found in the Additional Safety Resources section at the bottom of this page.

Protect yourself by...

  • Evaluating your personal safety. The question "How safe is safe enough?" may be difficult to answer, but it needs to be considered. Do you have independent backups of your data? If your home computer crashes or is destroyed in a fire will you be able to recover your data. Is your computer password protected? How many hours do you use a computer without taking a break? Which, if any, of the following suggestions are you currently pursuing? What changes do you need to make in order to protect your information, reputation, and personal health?
  • Limiting what information you reveal in "out-of-office" away messages. Thieves can send out mass emails and then use auto-reply messages to pick their burglary victims. By keeping the information in your away message as vague as possible, you can reduce the risk of this type of crime. Also, redirecting emails to another colleague is a good idea while out of the office.
  • Limiting what information you post on public web sites. Do not publish personal information, such as your address and phone number, in public web sites (like Facebook). By keeping this information private, you reduce the risk that an unscrupulous person could use information on your web site to contact or burglarize you.

Protect your information by...

  • Backing up important data. Save multiple independent copies of important files to different computers, CD-rom writable disks, or network folders. Missouri State automatically provides a network folder to students, faculty and staff, which can be used to backup data. More information on network folders is available from Computer Services (Students-Student Guide to Missouri State Computer Services, Faculty and Staff-Faculty and Staff Guide to University Technology). Store backups in different physical locations so that no foreseeable event (house fire) will destroy all backups.
  • Protecting yourself against computer viruses. Install computer virus programs that scan your computer files for viruses and quarantine infected files. Any file attached to an email whose name ends with ".exe" is almost certainly a virus. However, viruses are not always in .exe or executable files. Do not download or attempt to open any files whose origin is unknown, unverifiable, or unreliable. Missouri State provides its students, faculty and staff with Norton Antivirus.
  • Taking an active role in the security of your computer. Backing up data and using virus protection software are good steps toward safe computer use, but they are not one-time acts. Data must be backed up on a regular schedule (bi-weekly, weekly, monthly) to minimize the risk of data loss. Virus software must be updated regularly to protect your computer against newly created virus threats. (Virus updates should be provided by the company that developed your virus software, check online at the companies' official website for updates.)
  • Using password protection. Passwords limit who and from where the your files can be accessed. Limiting this access will reduce the risk of someone accidentally or intentionally deleting useful files.
  • Maintaining your passwords. Passwords should be concealed at all times, never shared and changed regularly. The longer a password is actively used, the greater the chance that someone will be able to guess or find out what your password is. Changing your passwords at regular intervals will increase the safety of your computing resources. The Missouri State Computer Services department provides tips and instructions on password use.

Protect your reputation by...

  • Carefully sending email. Email messages are easily misinterpreted due to their lack of tone, facial expression, and body language. Harmless jests may seem like personal attacks when presented without a wink and a smile. Guard against misinterpretation by re-reading your messages and removing questionable comments, or add emoticons to help clarify the mood of your emails. :-) 
  • Cautiously receiving email. Some mail messages contain bogus information about "deals too good to be true" or "VIRUS WARNING". These messages have no factual basis; forwarding them will help no one and likely anger those you send the message too. Other "hoax" emails may have files attached to them. These files are most likely viruses themselves; delete them immediately.
  • Limiting content in emails. Most people use email as a note exchange system, allowing them to transfer short messages to many people and then forward those messages along. Be weary of sending long and/or inappropriate comments/images to people in email. Emails are considered the property of their holder. Anyone can forward your emails along to others whom might not find your jokes or materials amusing.
  • Reading and knowing laws governing computer use. The U.S. has extensive federal and state laws outlining legal computer use. If you don't know if an action is legal, research it. The more familiar you are with the laws and policies governing computers the less susceptible you will be to electronic fraud.
  • Researching the appropriate conduct for a community. Every community has guidelines for acceptable behavior. Knowing these rules will help preserve your safety. Missouri State has its acceptable use policy posted online.
  • Preventing identity theft. Take steps to prevent people from obtaining your personal information. Armed only with an address, phone, or social security number, one could assume your identity and open bank or credit card accounts in your name. Additional resources on the topic of identity theft prevention and recovery are listed at the bottom of this page.
  • Verifying your credit history. The three main credit bureaus in the United States are Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union. A cautious consumer should request credit histories from each of these three organizations on a yearly basis. Verify the credit reports against your own personal records to ensure that no unusual activity exists. If unknown charges and/or accounts exists under your name, take steps to freeze and eliminate them.

Protect your health by...

  • Arranging desk/workstation appropriately. The layout of one's workstation will either support or inhibit that individual's personal health. In order to facilitate correct posture ensure that your keyboard and mouse are within reach while your back is flat against the backrest of your chair. The top of the computer monitor should be at or below eye level and slightly further away than you normally hold reading materials.
  • Sitting up straight. Improper posture during computer use could result in adverse health effects including sore back and neck, headaches, dizziness, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Position your body so that your shoulders are over your hips, your wrists are straight, and your elbows are at 90° angles. Also, ergonomic computer equipment (equipment designed to maximize user comfort and productivity) is available from most office supply retailers.
  • Watching for eye strain. Continuous computer use may strain and even damage your eyes. Symptoms of eye strain include red, watery eyes, blurred vision, aching/heavy eyelids, and head/back ache. Eye strain may be prevented by taking periodic breaks, changing eyeglass prescriptions,  blocking out light reflections and glare, and eliminating the need for your eyes to constantly refocus by placing all reference materials beside the computer screen. If symptoms continue, seek the advice of a health care professional.
  • Limiting computer use. Computer use should be paced throughout the day with periodic breaks injected into multiple hour sessions. A good rule of thumb is to take a five-minute break for each hour of computer use. During this break be sure to stand, stretch, or read some materials that are not on a computer screen.

Additional Safety Resources

  • Internet fraud - An extensive guide, packed full of tips on how to evade internet scam artists.
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  • Don't spread that hoax! - Sorting through junk email can be a hassle. Use this site to learn tips, tricks, and pure hard facts that will help you gain street smarts when it comes to deciphering junk mail.
  • Understanding Virus Risks - This site provides a well-cited look at viruses today and many different aspects of them: the definition, how they spread, how to find the most up to date viruses, and how to fix a virus issue.
  • U.S. government's central website - This Federal Trade Commission hosted website provides information regarding scams, a plan of action for victims of identity theft, and an extensive listing of federal and state laws on the topic of identity privacy and theft.