Week 4

Computers 101, Part III


One of the most important topics involving technology is security. We frequently hear about data breaches of major companies and it is unsettling to wonder if a hacker stole your information and is using it to empty your bank accounts or steal your identity. I sincerely hope that you have never dealt with a computer virus, stolen identity, phishing scam, or other related awful thing. Thinking about security is important for you, as an individual, and for your future workplace. I did an article review to see what information is out there regarding technology security tips and compiled a list of themes that I found repeated across the current literature. This list is not exhaustive and you will need to do your own research to fully understand technology vulnerabilities and what you can do to mitigate any problems. I have listed the articles I consulted at the end of this module and I encourage you to read through them. There is a great deal of overlap in the content and suggestions but I think the repetition of topics highlights the importance of following the authors' suggestions.

Backup Files

About a decade ago I was writing my dissertation and I just finished writing a chapter and then it was gone. It was totally gone and I could not find the file anywhere on my computer, email, or disk (we used disks back then). I don't know what happened but I wished I would have a backup system in place so I didn't have to write that chapter again ... from scratch. If you do fall prey to a computer virus and your computer is inoperable, a backup system will save your files so you do not lose everything. I have automatic cloud backups set up on my phone and computers that does a daily backup to one of their servers every 24 hours. If I lose something I can go to my cloud drive and download the file I cannot find.


Hopefully you do not use the same password for all of your accounts. If you do then you might be handing your identity over to someone who wants to access your accounts. If your password is stolen then ALL of your passwords are stolen. I also hope your passwords are not one of the following: Password, ABC123, 1234, or QWERTY. If your password is overly-simple then it will be overly-simple to discover and someone could access your account and cause problems. At Harvard I use Last Pass, which is a password manager. It keeps track of all of your passwords, it does security check of your stored passwords, and helps generate passwords for new accounts. I ran out of ideas for new passwords and password managers take the irritation out of that process. I use this software on my phone and on all of my computers to help me store my passwords so I don't have to remember them. Last Pass isn't the only password manager out there and I encourage you to explore your options to make your passwords more secure.

Software Updates and Anti virus Software

If you don't have an anti virus software, go get one and install it. It is a bad idea to get online without a software protecting you from malware and viruses. You don't have to click on links or files to get a virus or malware. Simply visiting a webpage is enough to cause malicious stuff to be downloaded to your computer. I need browser plug-ins and software to put up warnings that I shouldn't visit a site. One browser add on I use frequently is Web of Trust and it has helped me avoid quite a few malicious sites. It's free and it can be added to Chrome and Firefox. Some of the current anti virus software will also protect your technology from bad websites.

Also, make sure to install your software updates. If you are not familiar with what these are, here is an article that describes these updates in more detail. Much of the software that you use requires updating. Updates include new features and also protections from vulnerabilities.

Avoid Phishing

Don't click on links in your email. I heard about so many bad email links that I just have a personal policy to not click on email links. For example, let's say I get an email from Amazon saying I have a coupon waiting for me. I will actually go to Amazon in another tab, go to my account, and THEN look for said coupon. The way phishing works is that scammers put links in your email that look legitimate and when you click on the link you are taken to a website where you are asked to put in your personal information. The site you are directed to is not the actual site, rather it is a fake site, and when you enter in the information you are sending it to scammers who want to cause issues with your account and identity. Sometimes clicking on the link is all you need to do to cause problems. I have clicked on links in Facebook that didn't do anything that I could SEE but in the background it provided access for scammers to access my Facebook account and pull out my personal details and friend list. So, as a rule, I do not click on links in emails or even on social media.

Two Factor Authentication

How do computers know that you are really you? One way is to use Two Factor Authentication. If you have not encountered this type of authentication, it is when you login on a website the company also sends you a text message or phone call to verify that login. For example, when I login to my Harvard account I also get a pop-up on my phone asking if I am trying to login to Harvard's system. If I do not click "yes this is me" then I cannot login. If someone has your password, but not your phone, they cannot login, which keeps your account safe.


I find that most people do not know what a VPN is and how to use one. I have one on my computer and on my phone and it protects the information that I send over the internet. It's not foolproof so if I send my social security number to a scammer while my VPN is on then the VPN protection doesn't matter. A VPN is a "Virtual Private Network" and it makes a secure "tunnel" between your device and another device, such as a server. It blocks people from intercepting the information I am sending online like a bank login or a password to buy something online with my credit card number. This is especially important over public wifi networks. If you login to public wifi you are broadcasting your information to anyone who is on that network who knows how to intercept your information. Turning on a VPN will make your transmissions private so you can shop online or use passwords while on public wifi. VPNs usually assign you a different IP address than your own. For example, I use Tor Guard and my IP address comes up as a New York address so I cannot be located. My internet traffic goes through this IP address and it is secure on the Tor Guard channel. Tor Guard is not the only VPN available, there are many. I highly recommend getting one and they are quite affordable depending on what type of protection you want. This is the website I used to find my current VPN.


Here are a list of resources I consulted to find the current topics for this module. These articles reminded me that I needed to finally get around to purchase anti virus for one of my laptops I am using more frequently.

Basic Computer Security: How to Protect Yourself from Viruses, Hackers, and Thieves

Top 10 Tech Security Basics Every Person Should Follow

Computer Security

5 ways to test your computer’s security

Top Ten: The Most Important Cyber Security Tips for Your Users

Top Ten Safe Computing Tips

Cybersecurity at work