Is Your Computer Healthy?

IT security campaign offers tips for staying safe and protecting your data

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, and Duke's IT Security Office is kicking off a campaign to remind Duke faculty, staff and students to make sure their computers stay healthy.

Over the past two years, Sarah Trent has visited China, Ghana, Tanzania and Sri Lanka while working for the Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI). And just as she remembers to pack hand sanitizer to ward off viruses while traveling, she also makes sure to protect her personal information and data while away from Duke.

"I've set a password to log into my computer, and another to log into my email," said Trent, assistant director for international operations for DGHI. "If I need to access files on the DGHI drive, I use the virtual private network (VPN)."

Good "cyber hygiene" is increasingly important, and this October – the beginning of flu season and National Cyber Security Awareness Month – Duke's IT Security Office is kicking off a campaign to remind Duke faculty, staff and students to make sure their computers stay healthy.

There are important parallels between protecting your own health and protecting your personal information and data.

"Too often we don't think about our computer's health until something goes wrong, and we lose important data," said Richard Biever, the university's chief information security officer. "Remembering to keep your anti-virus software up-to-date and your computer or smartphone patched is a lot like remembering to wash your hands. Once you get into the habit, it becomes routine and your data stays safe."

Trent, who traveled extensively for the DukeEngage program before she joined DGHI in 2010, doesn’t travel with a smartphone but instead uses a country-specific SIM card in her mobile phone that provides a local in-country phone number.

"I feel like this is safer because if my travel phone gets lost, I’m not losing any data," she said. "Some of my colleagues who travel with smartphones and have access to sensitive data set an access passcode. Also, the device can be set to shut down after a certain number of failed login attempts."

In coordinating Duke's participation in the Human Resources for Health Rwanda program, DGHI included data security as part of orientation for those Rwanda-based employees.

"People sometimes take the technology for granted while traveling," Trent said. "Most people at Duke use smartphones, and those phones can be used to access a great deal of information. including student data or research data at Duke. If you lose your phone while traveling, it could lead to a security breach. You need to be very careful."

Follow these guidelines to make sure your computer and your data are protected:

  • Keep operating systems and applications up-to-date.
  • Install an anti-virus program on your computer. Duke offers McAfee antivirus free for students, staff and faculty.
  • Secure your browser and be careful about clicking on suspicious links.
  • Make sure your computer is password-protected.
  • Make a good backup of your system.