Simple steps lead to huge Internet security gains.

Whether breaches in Internet security cause annoyance, compromise sensitive information, or force huge organizations to a standstill, each incursion means lost productivity and the costs associated with downtime. Yet, “a number of small, easy-to-implement actions can vastly improve any organization’s Internet safety,” according to Manoel Oliveira, director of the Technology Center in the College of Business Administration.

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First, he said, is to install and regularly update a reliable anti-virus protection program to screen out viruses—thousands of which are created daily.

Second, pay attention to notices about security updates to the operating system and applications and install them immediately. These fixes or patches target efforts by “external entities to reach into your computer,” he said.

Third, exercise care when reading emails with attachments, especially those with an exe extension, which will be installed on your system if you open them.

“You may be installing dangerous software when you install an executable (exe) file attached to an email, even if it appears to be a harmless program,” he said.

Fourth, install a firewall to prevent unwanted requests from entering your network. Oliveira suggests a firewall software program or actual hardware, which “is more powerful because it is dedicated to the task.”

Fifth, he said, use strong passwords.

“Never use words from the dictionary, your birth date, your kids’ birthdays, or your spouse’s name, for example,” he said. “Use phrases that make no sense, vary capital and lowercase letters, and include numbers.”

While acknowledging that this complexity also makes passwords hard for the user to remember, Oliveira urges people to find a rule that makes sense to them.

Sixth, exercise caution about downloading and installing programs—such as free software—that can monitor your activities and send information to outside sources without your knowledge.

Seventh, always be sure financial information is encrypted, a process that scrambles the material when it’s in transit and which the recipient decodes.

“When a padlock icon appears at the bottom right hand corner of your screen, you will know your communication is being encrypted,” he said.

Also, to protect against “acts of God,” such as weather-related problems, back up all work regularly, including programs, in case program installation disks have gone astray or also are damaged.

Oliveira highly praises the Computer Emergency Recovery Team (CERT) and its web site for providing invaluable information. And although many other threats exist, these tips, and others from the CERT web site, can keep the Internet a boon rather than a problem for organizations.

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