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SMC Information Technologies offers computer security awareness lecture

Alicia Smith | Wednesday, January 20, 2010

With a variety of spyware, viruses and Trojans plaguing students’ computers, Saint Mary’s College Information Technology office decided to host a lecture to help students keep their computers safe.
Kathy Hausmann, the College’s coordinator of student computing, spoke about the different types of viruses, how to get them and how to prevent them. She also discussed the dangers of file sharing and phishing scams.
“It’s a jungle out there,” Hausmann said. “The Internet is full of quicksand and you really don’t want to be trapped in it.”
According to Hausmann, malware is the word used to describe any type of computer virus including basic viruses, Trojans and worms. Hausmann said a typical virus is simply a program that is spread from one computer to another.
Trojans are a type of computer virus that is installed because it appears to something else and, when clicked, downloads harmful files to a computer.
“Trojans are just as they sound, the Trojan horse. You think that you’re getting one thing usually a free picture, movie, game, screensaver, and that’s not really what you’re downloading,” she said.
Hausmann also explained that worms are viruses that can be installed on a computer just by connecting to the Internet.
“We had a large problem with these a couple years ago. When students came back to campus in August they weren’t doing the software updates on their computers to keep them patched,” she said. “They all brought un-patched computers to campus in August and it was a miserable experience because the network was so infected that it literally took 60 seconds from the computer was connected and the computer was infected on the network if your computer wasn’t patched.”
The best way to protect a computer from becoming infected by viruses is to install the newest version of antivirus software. Hausmann also suggested updating computers regularly. For Saint Mary’s students, McAfee antivirus software is available free of charge from the Saint Mary’s Web site.
Another topic covered in the lecture was how to determine if an e-mail is legitimate or if it is a phishing scam. Hausmann said one way to tell is to double check who the e-mail is from. She also said to pay attention to whether or not the e-mail is personalized. If the e-mail does not have your name in the greeting, it is most likely a phishing scam.
“Phishing is the attempt to acquire your personal information fraudulently. They’ll pretend to be Saint Mary’s or a bank or a store or a the IRS or some other legitimate institution so that they can receive your personal information,” Hausmann said. “Phishers are identity thieves. Personally I think that phishing is one of the biggest threats to Saint Mary’s students. I say that because I have seen the number of students … and faculty and staff who have responded to phishing scams on campus.”
According to Hausmann, 65 students, faculty and staff responded to phishing scams. The best way to avoid phishing scams is to refrain from responding and to delete the e-mail that was attempting to phish your personal information.
Hausmann also encouraged students to avoid using peer-to-peer (P2P) software sharing agents because these programs often share information without consent of the computer owner.
“Simply by having peer-to-peer software on your computer could also be sharing files from your computer without your knowledge,” Hausmann said.
The lecture was offered at three different times Tuesday and will be held again Wednesday at noon and 7 p.m. in Vander Vennet Theatre in the Student Center.