Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : May 2010

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TECHNOLOGY TALK

Whether you’re at work or at home, you should probably be using the same safety precautions that you would in a corporate environment to protect your files.

Your computer contains personal information. Whether it’s family photos, client data or household records, these files need to be protected from loss, damage or theft.

There are several simple ways you can protect your computer and your information.

  • Keep everything up to date. Keep your anti-virus software up to date. Anti-virus software doesn’t do any good if the virus definitions are old. Also, make sure you have all updates to your computer’s operating system. These updates come along periodically to plug security holes and minimize the impact of any malicious programs that get through, or go around, your anti-virus program.
  • Use a separate user account for each family member. If your computer is used by more than one person, you may want to create individual accounts. Each account has its own unique settings and preferences, such as a desktop background and color theme. If you have children who use the computer, you should create a limited account without administrative privileges. This will keep them from making changes which could damage your computer or your files. User Accounts can be found in the Control Panel.
  • Password-protect your files. You can also use password protection to protect your documents. To password-protect a file in Word or Excel, open the document. Click the Microsoft Office button and click Save As > Tools > General Options; type your password in the Password to open box, confirm the password, and then hit OK. When you click OK, you will be prompted to re-enter your password. Save your file. The next time you open your document, you will be prompted to enter the password you chose.
  • Lock your computer when you step away from your desk. If you’re running out to do a few errands (especially while you’re at work) but you want to leave all your programs open, you can lock your computer.

    There are two ways to lock your PC. Hit Ctrl + Alt + Delete when the Windows Security box pops up, hit Lock Computer or Switch User in the Shut Down menu. Or, hit the Windows logo key on your keyboard + L. Upon returning to your desk, you will be prompted for the same password that you use to log in to your computer to continue working.

  • Choose a good password. Choosing a secure password isn’t as easy as you might think. No one but you should know your password. A good password should be at least six characters in length and contain uppercase and lowercase letters, punctuation marks and numbers.

It is also recommended that you change your password as frequently as possible. If you use Microsoft Outlook or other scheduling tool you can create a reminder that will pop up every six months or so. The more frequently you change your password the less likely it will be stolen.

It is also recommended that you use a different password, or a variation of your password, for each online location.

If you are like most of us, you have one password that you like to reuse for a lot of your different online shopping or e-mail programs. This is dangerous. If someone gets this password, they have access to not only the location they grabbed it from but every other location to use it.

Of course, most of us worry about forgetting our password, especially if we make a “strong” password. Luckily, there are a couple of things you can do to help you remember. First, think of a verse from your favorite song. Next, exchange punctuation or numbers for the letters they most resemble, add some capitalization where you think it makes sense and you’re done.

Another option is to use password manager software, such as RoboForm (www.roboform.com) or Password Safe (http://passwordsafe.sourceforge.net/). These programs will ask you for one master password that will let you manage all your other passwords. These programs make it easy to have a different password for each site. They will not only remember your passwords, but also enter them for you when you visit the site assigned to it.

There is one other way that a lot of people use to store their passwords. They write it down. If you do this, do NOT keep it under the keyboard, under your desk blotter, in the computer desk drawer or (shudder) taped to the monitor. I’ve seen this. If you are going to write it down, keep it safe. Pick a specific book or file folder where you can keep it handy AND keep it safe.

  • Password-recovery tips. A lot of sites now ask for security questions before they will provide account reminder information used to provide forgotten user names or passwords. Be careful when you enter into these fields. If your security question is your favorite restaurant or favorite food, make sure these little tidbits of information aren’t found on your Facebook profile. Again, this should be something that only you know.

    If you follow these simple tips you will be closer to keeping what’s yours, yours and what’s private, private.

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    Publications : Bar Bulletin : May 2010

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