Tips for staying safe online

Overview These instructions describe best practices for securing your computer, accounts, and the data stored on them. Information Security Best Practices contains more technical security precautions that you should know, and that IT Pros should implement. All information in this document applies to laptops, but for further details, see Laptop […]


These instructions describe best practices for securing your computer, accounts, and the data stored on them. Information Security Best Practices contains more technical security precautions that you should know, and that IT Pros should implement.

All information in this document applies to laptops, but for further details, see Laptop Security.


Following some of the suggestions below can affect how your computer interacts with the network. If your computer or local network is managed by a computer support provider, you should consult with your provider before making changes to avoid disrupting your network connection.

Top four things you can do to protect your computer

Maintain current software and updates

The most important thing you can do to keep your computer safe is to use a secure, supported operating system; see ComputerGuide: Deals by vendor, recommendations, and common questions. Keep your software updated by applying the latest service packs and patches. Refer to your operating system’s help for assistance.

Practice the principle of least privilege (PoLP)

Practice the principle of least privilege. Do not log into a computer with administrator rights unless you must do so to perform specific tasks. Running your computer as an administrator (or as a Power User in Windows) leaves your computer vulnerable to security risks and exploits. Simply visiting an unfamiliar internet site with these high-privilege accounts can cause extreme damage to your computer, such as reformatting your hard drive, deleting all your files, and creating a new user account with administrative access. When you do need to perform tasks as an administrator, always follow secure procedures. For more, see Account Privileges.

Use security software

Install and maintain recommended security software.


Symantec no longer provides antivirus updates for its Endpoint Protection 12.x product that was hosted on IUware. To help keep your computer protected against viruses if you have Endpoint Protection 12.x installed, uninstall it and instead use one of the antivirus applications UITS recommends.

Frequently back up important documents and files

Back up your data frequently. This protects your data in the event of an operating system crash, hardware failure, or virus attack. UITS recommends saving files in multiple places using two different forms of media (for example, Cloud Storage or USB flash drive). See Options for storing files at IU.

Avoid threats to your computer

  • Never share passwords or
    Pick strong passwords and passphrases, and keep them private. Never share your passwords or passphrases, even with friends, family, or computer support personnel.


    At Indiana University, official communication (including email messages, phone calls, or computer support consultations) will never include a request for your IU passphrase.

    For more, see:

  • Use Two-Step Login (Duo): Two-Step Login (Duo) adds a second layer of security when you log into IU systems. Combining an additional verification with your username and passphrase helps prevent anyone but you from logging in. For more, see:
  • Sign up for foreign login alerts: If your account is compromised by an attacker who logs in from overseas, IU can alert you via email. See Know if someone outside the US has logged into your IU account.
  • Do not click random links: Do not click any link that you can’t verify. To avoid viruses spread via email or instant messaging (IM), think before you click; if you receive a message out of the blue, with nothing more than a link and/or general text, do not click it. If you doubt its validity, ask for more information from the sender. For further important information about links in email, see Avoid phishing scams.
  • Inspect sites that ask for your username and passphrase: All sites requiring you to log in (at IU and elsewhere) should encrypt data being transmitted between your device and the site. If the site doesn’t have a green padlock in the URL field (Secure site URL padlock), the connection is not secure and you should not log in.
  • Beware of email or attachments from
    unknown people, or with a strange subject line:
    Never open an attachment you weren’t expecting, and if you do not know the sender of an attachment, delete the message without reading it. To open an attachment, first save it to your computer and then scan it with your antivirus software; check the software’s help documentation for instructions.
  • Digitally sign your email: Digital signatures add another layer of authenticity to email by showing others that the message was sent from the account of the digital certificate holder, and that the message was not modified during transmission. For more, see Secure messages with a digital signature (using S/MIME) at IU.

    For more about digital signatures, see Microsoft’s Digital signatures and certificates.


    Although Microsoft Outlook verifies that the certificate used to sign a message is valid and the message integrity is verified, it does not check to make sure that the “From” address matches the address in the S/MIME certificate. You should remain vigilant in recognizing the warning signs of phishing scams.
  • Do not download unfamiliar software
    off the internet:
    KaZaA, Bonzi, Gator, HotBar, WhenUSave, CommentCursor, WebHancer, LimeWire, and other Gnutella programs all appear to have useful and legitimate functions. However, most of this software is (or contains) spyware, which will damage your operating system installation, waste resources, generate pop-up ads, and report your personal information back to the company that provides the software.

    Obtain public domain software from reputable sources, and then check the newly downloaded software thoroughly, using reputable virus detection software on a locked disk, for signs of infection before copying it to a hard disk.


    Before you choose to download and use these types of programs, make sure you are not violating copyright or other applicable laws. Downloading or distributing whole copies of copyrighted material for personal use or entertainment without explicit permission from the copyright owner is against the law. For more, see:

  • Do not propagate virus hoaxes or chain mail: For more, see Avoid getting in trouble with email.
  • Log out of or lock your computer when
    stepping away, even for a moment:
    Forgetting to log out poses a security risk with any computer that is accessible to other people (including computers in public facilities, offices, and shared housing), because it leaves your account open to abuse. Someone could sit down at that computer and continue working from your account, doing damage to your files, retrieving personal information, or using your account to perform malicious actions. To avoid misuse by others, remember to log out of or lock your computer whenever you leave it.
  • Shut down laboratory or test computers after you are finished with them: For computers in the UITS Student Technology Centers (STCs) or Residential Technology Centers (RTCs), logging out is sufficient to protect the security of your accounts and data. With other computers, however, it’s safest to shut them down after you’ve finished, to prevent unauthorized access. Shutting down a computer prevents others from hacking it remotely, among other risks.
  • Remove unnecessary programs or services from your computer: Uninstall any software and services you do not need.
  • Restrict remote access: UITS recommends that you disable file and print sharing. In rare exceptions when you may need to share a resource with others, you should correctly set the file and directory permissions. When possible, limit the sharing to the specific user account that needs access.

    UITS also recommends disabling Remote Desktop (RDP), Remote Assistance,and Secure Shell (SSH) unless you require these features. If you do, enable the remote connections when needed, and disable them when you’re finished. Note that you only need to enable RDP, Remote Assistance, or SSH on the computer you intend to connect to; disabling them on the computer you’re connecting from will not prevent you from making a connection to another computer. See Using Remote Desktop securely and Using SSH.

    For all types of remote file sharing and access, you should use your system’s host-based firewall to scope access based on IP address, only granting access to the most limited range of IP addresses needed to accomplish your task.

  • Treat sensitive data
    very carefully:
    For example, when creating files, avoid keying the files to Social Security numbers, and don’t gather any more information about people than is absolutely necessary.

    At IU, sensitive information should be handled (that is, collected, manipulated, stored, or shared) according to legal and university functional requirements related to the specific use involved, as well as data and security policies of the university; see Protecting Data. For more, contact the university

    Data Steward

    for the data subject area involved.

  • Remove data securely: Remove files or data you no longer need to prevent unauthorized access to them. Merely deleting sensitive material is not sufficient, as it does not actually remove the data from your system. For information on secure data removal, see Secure Data Removal.
  • Deploy encryption whenever it is available: For more, see:

Secure your home network

For advice on securing your home network, see Secure your home wireless network.

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