The University of Texas at Austin

Security Awareness

Your Guide to Safe Web Browsing

Get tips on keeping your computer (and your personal information) safe while on the Internet.

The Internet represents different things to different people. For some, it’s a way to stay connected to friends and family. For others, it’s a way to stay informed on news or to research information. The Internet has also become ubiquitous for banking, paying bills and other business. Yet for the unscrupulous, the Internet is a straight line to your personal information, your identity or your money. If you aren’t thinking about your security every time you log on to the Internet, you should be.

It may sound paranoid, but really it’s just good common sense. Hundreds of new viruses are discovered every month and identity theft has almost become commonplace due to threats found on the Internet. As technology and uses for the Internet continue to develop, so do new ways to create mayhem on the Web.

Here are some tips for keeping your computer, your data and your personal information safe while browsing the Web:

The Basics:

  • Use anti-virus software on your computer. Anti-virus software will detect and remove viruses or prevent them from ever entering your computer. Every student, faculty and staff member at The University of Texas at Austin is encouraged to download, install and run on their personal computers the security software offered on the BevoWare Web site. These products are available to the entire campus community at no additional cost. By keeping your computer secure, you also help protect the university network and all the other computers connecting to it.
  • Use a firewall on your computer. A firewall is an application that will prevent hackers from gaining unauthorized access to your computer. A personal firewall will also protect your computer against viruses, worms and other Internet threats.
  • Create and use strong passwords. The harder your passwords are to figure out, the more protected your computer and your accounts are on the Internet. To create a strong password, use both upper and lower case letters. Also, incorporate numbers or punctuation marks to make your password at least eight characters long. A good password is NOT your name, phone number, Social Security number, birth date, address or names of anyone you know.  Hackers are smart enough these days to detect a word—any word—even those spelled backwards.  Also, don’t use a word that uses digits in place of letters or passwords that are simply a group of keys right next to each other on the keyboard (asdfghjkl) or one letter or number repeated (44444444444).
  • Update your security software and change your passwords often.  Hackers and Internet thieves are always finding news ways to infiltrate systems or launch new threats. It isn’t enough just to download and install security software one time. To keep your computer safe, you must update your protective software regularly. Also, even if your passwords are strong, change them every six months or so. Never use one password, such as your EID password, for multiple online accounts. If one of these systems is compromised, your password from one system may be used to try to enter other systems.
  • Beware of instant message links and e-mail attachments. A good rule to follow when communicating online is to never open an attachment that you aren’t expecting, even if you know the person who sent it. Viruses are commonly spread by instant message links or through e-mail attachments. The sender may not even be aware that the link or attachment contains a virus. Pop-up ads are notorious for hiding viruses or other Internet threats. Before you click on that ad for free software or for an online game demo, know that you may also be downloading spyware. Spyware is a software application that slips into your computer and gathers information about your online activity, such as what sites you visit. There are other types of spyware that collect information stored in your computer, like your passwords or financial statements. With spyware, identity theft is just a few clicks away for the intruder.

The Next Level:

  • Protect yourself on the campus wireless network. The university provides a secure wireless network that reaches across our campus.
  • Protect yourself on all wireless networks. Always assume that public “hot spots” where you can access a wireless network, such as in an airport or café, are not secure. Never send sensitive or personal information over a wireless network. Make sure you use application-level security, such as HTTPS and SSL.
  • Avoid storing sensitive material indefinitely on your computer. This includes your Social Security number, credit card numbers, phone numbers, bank account numbers or other personal information that could identify you or your friends. That may sound like a tall order, but this is exactly the information hackers are looking for. If you connect to a wireless network, consider removing personal information from your computer as soon as you have finished using it.
  • Don’t send sensitive or confidential IM or e-mail messages over a wireless network. Most IM programs are not encrypted, meaning that anyone who is looking at information as it travels a network can read your messages. Remember, sending an IM or e-mail message is like sending a postcard—easy to intercept and easy to read.
  • Disconnect your computer from the Internet when you aren't using it. You may be accustomed to keeping your Internet cable modem connected to your computer, but hackers or viruses scanning for available computers are more likely to find you if your computer is always connected. Depending on how you connect to the Web, disconnect your computer after each online session by ending a dial-up connection, turning off your computer or modem, or disconnecting cables.
  • Be alert to unusual computer activity or problems. If your computer has been operating slowly lately or you are getting an unusual amount of popups or errors, this could be a sign of infection by viruses or spyware.
  • Don't log in to sensitive websites (e.g. banking, Blackboard etc.) when you are doing general web browsing. This can greatly increase your risks. As an alternative, if you are doing general web browsing, you can use a separate browser for sensitive sites.

Sources: United States Computer Readiness Team; Internet Education Foundation