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Safe Computing for Students
Safe Computing General Guidelines
University students should take the following actions:
- Enable automatic security updates for your computer.
- Protect your computer against viruses, spyware, and adware.
- Use strong passwords that include letters, numbers, and special characters (for example, $, &, #). University Computing Account passwords must be a minimum of eight characters in length and include at least one special character.
- Examples of strong passwords include: 4Kansas2Go!, 2Gud2Btu#, @luNch2DY.
- Examples of poor passwords include: Steelers, Pitt, Barbara (or anyone else's name), anniversaries, and birthdays.
- Change your passwords at least every semester. Log in to my.pitt.edu, select Profile, click Manage Your Account, and then click Password Change to change your University Computing Account password.
- Never give out your password to anyone.
- Use Secure Shell (SSH) protocol when transmitting data to a remote computer, such as a Unix machine. Use a Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) to transfer files.
- Use the University's PittNet VPN (Pulse Secure) service to connect to restricted services, including accessing sensitive information from off-campus locations.
- Don't open email attachments from people you don't know. Be aware that you can't always trust the From address in an email. Spammers will often alter a spam message to make it appear as though it came from another address, even an @pitt.edu address.
- Don't download programs from sites you don't trust.
- Do not install or use file sharing software on your computer. Harmful software, such as viruses and Trojan horses, can be transferred to your computer through file sharing software.
- Back up the data on your computer daily, making sure to maintain the encryption of sensitive data on the backup medium.
- Keep a written record of the make, model, serial number, and other pertinent information about your computer.
- Contact the University's Surplus Property unit to dispose of or recycle computers and computer equipment, and to destroy old hard drives.
Safe Computing Guidelines for Specific Operating Systems
In addition, follow these guidelines for your specific operating system.
- Use a current Windows operating system: Windows 8.1 or Windows 10. Older operating systems like Windows ME, 2000, XP, and Vista have unresolved security problems and are no longer supported by Microsoft.
- Physically secure your computer in an office with a locked door if possible, or use a cable lock and attach it to your desk.
- Don't leave your computer unattended so that someone else can use it. Use the Ctrl+Alt+Delete keys and choose Lock Workstation. Configure the Windows Screen Saver with a password by following these steps:
- Windows 10: Select the Start icon, then Control Panel, Appearance and Personalization, Personalization, and Screen Saver.
- Windows 8, 8.1: From the Start window click the Desktop tile, then right click your desktop, select Personalize, then Screen Saver from the bottom right-hand corner.
- Ensure that the Windows Firewall, a Windows-compatible firewall, is enabled. Instructions are included in the help sheet titled How to meet the Health Check PittNet VPN (Pulse Secure) Requirement.
- Disable the Windows Auto Login and Switch User features. Make sure you have an account and password on the computer and do not use Auto Login or Switch User on Windows. These features allow anyone to access all of the information stored on your computer. Use Ctrl+Alt+Delete instead to log in to your computer.
You can disable the Windows Auto Login and Switch User features at Control Panel > User Accounts > Advanced tab. Make sure that the box next to Require users to press Ctrl+Alt+Delete is checked.
- Disable auto login. As a convenience, macOS automatically logs in to your account when you start up. This means that anyone else who boots your computer will gain full access to your account. To prevent this, uncheck the auto login box in Accounts preferences. Always use a password to access your Mac desktop. To disable auto login, go to System Preferences > Accounts > Login Options. Set Display login window as Name and Password. Set Enable fast user switching as Enabled, and set the View option as Name. This allows the user to lock the workstation when not in use, similar to how Windows functions.
- Use an updated macOS operating system, version 10.10, 10.11, 10.12, or 10.13. Earlier generation operating systems have unresolved security problems.
- Don't leave your computer unattended so that someone else can use it. Lock it by using one of the standard Mac methods, logout or rotate to login window.
- Ensure that the Mac firewall is enabled. Turn on your firewall (Sharing Preference page). Go to Sharing, click Firewall, and click Start. You might need to allow specific services called ports if you are using them.
- Password protect the Mac screen saver. In the Security preference panel, select Require Password To Wake This Computer From Sleep or Screen Saver.
- Use the Require Password When Waking feature (Security Preference pane). This feature offers simple but powerful protection from unauthorized access attempts. For this to work well, make sure the screen saver interval is set to 5-10 minutes.
- Assign a Keychain Password (Keychain Access Application). On macOS, passwords are managed by Keychain Access (found in Application/Utilities). By default, the keychain password is the same as your login password. Anyone could change this by booting from a macOS CD-ROM and all of your passwords could be revealed. To prevent this, set a Keychain password that is different from your login and admin accounts. Use Change Password, which is found in the Edit menu.
- MacOS requires entry of the Admin password before any major modifications can be made to the operating system. This means that you actively manage the security of your system. If the system asks for the Admin password when you don't expect it, click Cancel unless you understand why the password is being requested.
- Use an unprivileged login to do your daily work. Linux and Unix allowed unprivileged accounts to easily be created and used. Log in only as root to perform system administrator functions.
- Disable any and all network services, as well as services such as email, web, and file sharing.
- Check your logs on a regular basis for any anomalous activity. For example, repeated failed login attempts can be an indication of a hacking attempt. If you notice suspicious activity in your logs, contact the 24/7 IT Help Desk at 412-624-HELP (4357).
- Use a Linux built-in or compatible firewall.
- When possible, check digital signatures of packages that you download and install. Consult your distribution help pages to find out more about this. Most websites provide MD5 checksums and verified downloads for protection.
- Make sure you know what services and applications are running. This will help ensure that no rogue processes (such as keyloggers, which run as services or applications) are being run on the system.
- Disable the Ctrl+Alt+Delete keyboard function. If you do not disable this function, then someone could shut down your computer and capture control of it during the rebooting process.
Safe Computing Guidelines for Mobile Devices
Portable devices include laptop computers, tablets, smartphones, personal digital assistants, USB (flash) drives, and CDs. These devices are frequently stolen or lost. Remember that you should eliminate any unauthorized sensitive information from portable devices and encrypt all authorized sensitive information. In addition, follow these steps to protect your devices.
- Physically secure your laptop computer by keeping it in an office that can be locked. Also, use a cable lock to secure it to a desk or heavy object in or outside of the office.
- The University Police department offers a laptop registration and engraving service called Operation ID to help identify stolen equipment.
- Do not store sensitive or confidential data on mobile devices unless you have been authorized to do so.
- Avoid leaving your mobile devices and media unattended.
- Always use a password to protect your portable device against unauthorized use.
- Turn Bluetooth power off by default, and do not let it be set to discoverable.
- Turn off the radio switch for your laptop's Wi-Fi access when you are not using it.
- If a portable device is lost or stolen, contact University Police for assistance.