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Avoiding Malware Threats for TRIO Programs

With Summer TRIO Programs about to begin, I thought it might be a good idea to review some simple practices that can help your staff and students to avoid the persistent threats that can create total havoc due to computer malware (i.e. malicious software). The best practice is prevention through both simple practices and decision making by both students and staff. So here’s a basic guide that can be reviewed with students to help your program focus on using the computer as an effective tool instead of spending time on malware related problems.

  1. Make sure all computers and cell phones have the most current operating system updates. Have staff and students check their computer system and software update settings to make sure that they are either set to be automatic or at least notify that updates are available. In the latter case, an ongoing schedule to do updates is a good practice. Cell phones and carriers treat updates differently. Find out if this is a manual or automatic process with the particular cell phone carrier. For example with Verizon Wireless it is frequently a manual command using *228 on a regular basis and choosing option 1 to get updates.
  2. Make sure that applications on both computers and cell phones are also updated automatically or manually on a regular basis. Malware often targets a specific known weakness in an application to gain access to a computer or cell phone.
  3. Make sure your anti-virus and anti-spyware license is active and is updating. Check to make sure the most recent protection files are being downloaded and installed. This is one of the first things that malware frequently disables in order to gain control of the system. Cell phones should also be running some kind of anti-virus and anti-spyware solution. There are commercial solutions as well as free versions such as Lookout that can be installed.
  4. With respect to eMail, some basic precautions can help prevent potential misfortune or even complete loss of all data on a laptop or computer. In particular, the following will alleviate most of the potential problems:
    • If you don’t know the source of a message or your name doesn’t appear in the “To” field, delete it.
    • If it looks like a subscription and you know you didn’t subscribe to it, don’t click on the “unsubscribe” link in the message. This will likely only verify that the spammer has a valid email address.
    • Banks, PayPal and other services will never ask you to provide personal or financial information in an email. No matter how official a request looks to verify information about yourself, never respond to that message and provide information. Valid sources will usually address you with your name and won’t say “urgent” or “immediate” or ask for information.
    • Attachments from an unknown source or even a friend that doesn’t make sense should never be opened. Delete it if it is from an unknown source or verify with someone you know that they sent it if it doesn’t make sense. These attachments may contain viruses or links to infected Web sites.
    • If you question something, you can check out the latest scams at: http://www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/e-scams
  5. Adopt a protective stance with respect to your computer and information:
    • Trust No One
    • Set your anti-virus to scan everything.
    • If you have any doubt, don’t click on it, delete it.

Wishing you happy and trouble free computing. If you have any questions, just ask and we’ll get back to you.

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