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Protect Your Computer from Attack

Want to make sure you don't fall victim to a virus or computer hacker? Want to prevent some thief from stealing your identity? Any computer that can access the Internet is vulnerable to these types of attacks. Both Windows and Mac users are at risk, but these tips can help protect your data and personal information.

Note: Malware is more than just annoying pop-up advertisements.  Some forms will even try to steal your identity and other personal information.  Follow our guidelines below to make sure your information stays safe.

System Updates and Patches

Keep your computer up-to-date with the latest security patches and software updates released by Microsoft and Apple.  These updates fix security holes that could allow an attacker to compromise your computer.


  1. In System Preferences click on Software Update
  2. Check the box next to Check for updates and then select Daily from the drop-down menu
  3. Check the box next to Download important updates in the background
  4. Close the Preferences pane


  1. In Control Panel, click on System and Security.
  2. Click on Windows Update.
  3. Click on Change Settings on the left.
  4. Select Automatic under Important Updates and specify "Every day".
  5. Select Recommended Updates.
  6. Click OK to save the changes.

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Anti-Virus Protection

Mac OS X Protection:

Xprotect and Gatekeeper are installed by default on all Mac OS X systems running 10.7.x and above. Both these systems provide protection from malicious software and attacks. Xprotect works by building a list of malicious software that downloads can be checked against. It also sets a minimum version for certain web plugins to help protect against zero day exploits. Gatekeeper allows developers to sign applications so that their authenticity is known by the OS. 

Additionally, CIS is able to quickly patch centrally managed, college-owned Macs in the event of critical updates to application or system software.

Windows Protection:

Antivirus software is deployed on all college-owned Windows machines, and strongly encouraged on all privately owned Windows machines to provide protection from malicious software. 

Recommended programs:
Windows Defender - Download
Clam AV - Download

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A firewall helps protect your computer from Internet attacks by restricting access to and from your computer. Mac OS X and Windows both have a built-in firewall.

Mac OS X:

  1. In System Preferences, click on Security.
  2. On the Firewall tab, click Start.
  3. Close the Preferences pane.


  1. In Control Panel, click on System and Security.
  2. Click on Windows Firewall.
  3. Select the On option.
  4. Click OK to save the changes.

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Secure Virtual Memory

Virtual memory writes temporary data to your hard drive to make retrieval of information much faster. This virtual memory can contain confidential data, so make sure your virtual memory is encrypted.


Securing virtual memory is built-in to Mac OS X:

  1. In System Preferences, click on Security.
  2. Check the box next to Use secure virtual memory.
  3. You will need to restart your computer for this to take affect.


Using software called BCWipe, you can encrypt virtual memory. Though it isn't free, we also recommend this program for securely deleting files and erasing free space in Windows. We have separate installation instructions available.

  1. After installing BCWipe, go to Start > All Programs > BCWipe > CryptoSwap.
  2. Check the box next to Enable encryption of swap file.
  3. Click OK.
  4. You will need to restart your computer for this to take effect. Click Yes to restart now, or No for later.

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Passwords you create should be a minimum of 8 characters in length and contain a combination of letters, numbers and special characters and not be a word in the english dictionary.

To protect your personal information, create a different password for each account you use--computer login, email, network services, financial institutions, etc.

Avoid writing down passwords or checking the "remember my password" button with programs.  It can be difficult to recover lost passwords, so we've created some helpful tips for creating and securing your passwords.

Set a password for the user account on your computer and disable auto login to prevent unauthorized use of your computer.  Remember to password protect your screensaver or log out of your computer when not in use.  It may be an inconvenience to type in your computer password, but your data will be more protected from prying eyes.

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Web Browsers

CIS supports Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome for Windows and Mac systems, but we will do our best to support other browsers such as Internet Explorer and Safari.

Web browsers should be updated regularly to fix known bugs and security holes.  For built-in browsers, such as Safari and Internet Explorer (on Windows), these fixes are integrated with the operating system updates.  Firefox can be set to check for new updates automatically. 

Note: Because of its popularity, virus and spyware writers often target Internet Explorer specifically. An unpatched Internet Explorer browser has security holes that can be easily exploited.

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Filesharing and Peer-to-Peer Services

Filesharing and Peer-to-Peer (P2P) services are dangerous to your system. Services like Kazaa, Limewire, and Gnutella have no security measures in place and files are often not what they claim to be. Using a filesharing service such as one of these opens yourself up to viruses and malware, even if you have anti-virus software running.

Additionally, you risk being a target to lawsuits if you share copyrighted material (many of these programs share the files on your computer without your knowledge). The best way to stay safe is to simply not use filesharing services.  For more information, visit our copyright FAQ.

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Malware: Adware and Spyware

Spyware and adware are two kinds of malicious programs generally referred to as malware (malicious software). These programs are responsible for pop-up advertisements, while some forms are even more destructive and may try to steal your identity and other personal information. They often come bundled with questionable applications (like file-sharing software) and run in the background without your knowledge or consent.

Currently, Mac users are largely unaffected by malware. Windows users should install and run weekly scans for Spybot Search and Destroy. Another excellent spyware prevention tool is Ad-Aware. It is free for individual home users to download and use.  A combination of these tools will detect and remove more spyware than simply relying on just one of them. 

When regularly updated, these programs provide excellent removal of and protection against malware. If you think your computer has been infected with a virus or any type of malware, contact CUS immediately (X7525)

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"Phishing" Scams

"Phishing" often appear as a legitimate e-mail from a trusted party such as a financial institution or credit card company. They come in various forms, but they all attempt to trick the user into divulging sensitive information such as passwords or credit card numbers. Some e-mails will ask you to reply with your credentials (supposedly to confirm your identity), while others may contain a seemingly legitimate link to a website identical to that of the claimed sender.

Learn more on our phishing page, including how to protect yourself. You can also view current and past phishing emails that have targeted the Reed community on our threat status page.

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If you have any questions about computer security don't hesitate to contact CUS at 503-777-7525 or email the Help Desk at