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Computers today are an integral part of day to day campus life. E-mail and instant messages are heavily used for communications. University administrative business processes depend upon computer automation, record keeping, and dependable, confidential, and quick access to reliable information. The university's academic processes make use of computers for classroom presentations, lab demonstrations and simulations, and online research. For many of us, computers are also used frequently in our private lives.

We all have a vested interest in ensuring that our computing infrastructure continues to operate reliably and that it preserves the confidentiality and integrity of the information it handles - both our own and that of those we serve. Our NCSU network is made up of over 25,000 computing devices. Each and every device contributes to our network's security. Each and every operator of those devices has a necessary and important part in preserving the integrity of our network, just as every citizen has a necessary and important part in preserving a society.

Each and every day, some of the 600 million people on the Internet are reaching out and touching our computers in attempts to violate our privacy, use our resources, dupe us into helping them perform a crime, or steal information. Every one of the 25,000 or so computers on the NCSU network is an attractive target for criminals. Serious crimes have been committed on, by, and through five year old laptops.

"The people of the world have granted control of their existence to computers, networks, and databases. You own property if a computer says you do. You can buy a house if a computer says you may. You have money in the bank if a computer says so. Your blood type is what the computer says it is. You are who the computer says you are."

Ancient Roman's built a wall around their great city of Rome; the Chinese built a wall to surround the entirety of their country; soldiers in World War I dug a trench to keep from getting shot. These were all various security measures taken by individuals a different points in history. Today, however, weapons are electronic and a good trench consists of a good firewall, regular security updates, current antivirus software, and a rediculously complex password.

Operating System Updates

On release date, no piece of software is every perfect. They are all prone to buggy behavior and may have some security holes in them. Considering the size of an operating system, these are prone to have very many holes, which is why updating as soon as one is found is a must.

For Windows users, the Windows Update website should have very pertinent information regarding security holes and bug fixes. There is a similar tool for Microsoft Office, called Office Update. For Microsoft Office updates on Mac OS X, be sure to check out Microsoft's Mactopia Downloads page. OS X Updates can be found at Apple'sMac OS X Downloads page. Linux machines and Suns running the NCSU RealmKit are updated as patches are made available.

What does Anti-virus Software do?

Anti-virus software scans files or your computer's memory for certain patterns that may indicate an infection. The patterns it looks for are based on the signatures, or fingerprints, of known viruses. Once a virus is detected in the wild, the Anti-Virus companies then release these new patterns for your Anti-virus software to use. These updates come out daily by some vendors. Virus authors are continually releasing new and updated viruses, so it is important that you have the latest definitions installed on your computer.

Once you have installed an anti-virus package, you should scan your entire computer periodically. Always leave your Anti-virus software running so it can provide constant protection.

  • Automatic scans. Depending what software you choose, you may be able to configure it to automatically scan specific files or directories and prompt you at set intervals to perform complete scans.
  • Manual scans. It is also a good idea to manually scan files you receive from an outside source before opening them. This includes:
    • Saving and scanning email attachments or web downloads rather than selecting the option to open them directly from the source
    • Scanning floppy disks, CDs, or DVDs for viruses before opening any of the files

In addition to the information above, more information regarding internet security and the threats that warrant it can be found at

This point can not be stressed enough: you need, absolutely need, current antivirus software. This is the best thing shy of staying completely off the Internet for protecting your computer from a virus attack. NC State offers free antivirus software for faculty, staff and students at the NC State University Antivirus Resources page. But, just having antivirus software installed and making regular scans will not keep your computer safe for long. It is imperative that you update virus definitions regularly and frequently.


Your password is quite possibly the most important part to security. This is a bit trickier of an area to cover. we have all heard the typical rhetoric about "strong" passwords. That is, you need letters, numbers, and symbols all in there and it should be long and random. Well, if you are like me, you don't remember random strings very well. This is one reason mnemonics are a good bet for a password. A mnemonic is just a way of helping you remember something that is otherwise fairly difficult.

This does not eliminate the need for a long password, but urges one choose a long password that is not in the dictionary. A mnemonic, however, can change this long password from 7 or 8 random letters to a 7 or 8 word sentence. If I were to set my password to "ipattfotusoa," how in the world could I remember such a thing? Easily, it is the first letter in every word of the Pledge of Allegiance. Try to think of a song, rhyme, or something to help you here, but plese do not leave it something that can easily be cracked. We reccomend that at least one symbol and one number be included in your password. This will dramatically increase the complexity of your password.

Here at NC State, you are fully responsible for whatever is done under your Unity ID. If you happen to leave your password out in the open and someone takes it and messes around on your account, you are held accountable. Therefore, it is recommended that you regularly change your password and keep it secret.

Spyware and Adware

Additional threats to security are spyware and adware. Spyware tracks Web surfers' every move and adware displays pop-up ads guided by users' surfing habits and keyword searches. Ad-Aware is a utility used to find and remove spyware and adware from your computer. SpyBot is a program designed to do the exact same thing: search for and destroy spyware and adware from your computer. Both of these are available as free downloads from their websites. Microsoft's Defender software is another great option.

The Firewall

A firewall prevents outsiders from seeing a system. A good firewall will attempt to close off any ports, or doorways, into your computer where a malacious hacker or cracker will try to enter your computer. Some will also scan incoming traffic to ensure that it is free of any threat to your computer.

Here at NC State, there are various classes which are offered that must be behind a firewall. Classes dealing with networking protocols and infrastructure are particularly sensitive and need to be protected from the outside world.

IT Security Terms

Below are some terms that you should be familiar with the next time your IT person tells you that an "ankle biter" has breached your computer and a "zombie" is lurking inside. Additional information on internet security can be found in the May 2005 issue of University Business magazine.

The letters stand for Automated Information System. This is any equipment that acquires, stores, manipulates, controls, transmits, or receives data. An AIS includes software, firmware, and hardware.
A person who aspires to be a hacker or cracker, but who has limited knowledge or skills. The term is usulaly associated with young teens who download and use simple malicious programs.
Back Door
A hole in the security of a computer system diliberately left in place by designers. Synonymous with trap door, this is hidden software or hardware used to circumvent security controls.
A popular hacking tool used to decode encrypted passwords. System administrators also use a Crack to assess weak passwords by novice users.
Computer Worm
A self-reproducing program that is distinguished from a virus by copying itself without being attached to a program file, or which spreads over computer networks, particularly via e-mail.
A person who enjoys exploring the details of computers and how to stretch their capabilities. A Dark-side Hacker has criminal or malicious intentions.
A piece of e-mail containing live data intended to do malicious things to the recipient's computer. A Mailbomb urges others to send massive amounts of e-mail to a single system or person, with the intent of crashing a system.
Sending messages that are designed to look like legitimate requests for personal information or account numbers.
A type of scam that redirects users to bogus webpages, allowing attackers to embed Trojan programs that track keystrokes and passwords.
Piggy Back
The gaining of unauthorized access to a system via another user's legitimate connection.
A hacker who hires out for legal racking jobs, snoopig for information.
Script Kiddies
The lowest form of a cracker; they do mischief with scripts and rootkits written by others.
To grab a large document or file for the purpose of using it with or without the author's permission.
Pretending to be someone else to gain access to an AIS. Impersonating, masquerading, and mimicking are forms of spoofing.
Trojan Horse
An apparently useful and innocent program containing additional hidden code which allows the unauthorized collection, exploitation, falsification, or destruction of data.
A program that can "infect" other programs.
A specialized type of backdoor or remote access program that identifies itself to a master computer, and then waits for instructions. Upon receipt of instructions, zombie machines will send attack packets to a target computer. Zombie may refer to the control program, or it may refer to a computer being controlled.