Online security

The security of your computer system and files is an important part of online study. Security software actively monitors your system for dangers. Ensuring that your security software is up to date will protect your data from being lost or vandalised.

The easiest way for your system to be compromised is when you download resources from the internet. Such resources could also be emailed to you. Known as Virus, Trojan or Malware, they are programs designed to hijack your system, steal information or simply corrupt your data.

Fortunately, there are simple measures we can take to protect ourselves.

Manage your identity

An important security consideration is the personal information that we share freely on the web. Be conscious of what you share, as personal details can be collated by the unscrupulous to ‘steal our identity’.

Identity theft is a kind of fraud where money is borrowed and purchases made in our name. We can limit this by keeping certain details private. Read more about identity management.


Passwords are our first line of defence. To maximise protection, use a ‘strong’ password by:

  • Mixing numbers, letters and special characters AND
  • Not reusing old passwords AND
  • Changing your password at regular intervals.

To remember a password, trying substituting numbers and special characters for letters. A phrase is better than a single word.

For example, Ilikepurple could be written as !L1k3pUrp12  (Notice that the capitals are at unexpected locations). A phrase like this can be easier to remember than completely random text.

A way to keep track of multiple passwords is to use a reliable App such as Password Safe where all of your passwords are encrypted behind a single password.

File backups

It is essential that you keep backup copies of all assignment tasks you complete.

The actual files you are working on for university can be backed up either onto an external or flash drive (USB) or placed in the cloud.

Federation University provides 1 TB of storage for students (free) on OneDrive, which is part of Microsoft Office 365. The great advantage with using this service is that you can access your files whenever you are. Also, those files will be automatically updated (or ‘synced’) when your internet is active.

Other products such as Google Drive and Dropbox can be used to back up your files.

You can also set a system restore point to be saved to an external hard drive. This is a special snapshot of your entire computer. If you have problems, you can ask the computer to reset to this point. If your computer needs to be reset by a professional they may be able to use the restore point to reclaim your setup and programs for you.

Fire walls

A fire wall is a real-time defence against intrusion into your computer. It monitors traffic from the internet and will stop known attacks. It will also request your approval for suspicious activity.

A quick look at a file warning can save you a lot of heartache. The file should be relevant to your current activities on the computer. If the name doesn’t make sense, open a web browser and search for the name of the file in question. If it is ok there should be some positive comment on it on the web.

Apple Firewall  

Windows Firewall  

Virus defences

Different virus-checking software packages are available for purchase. This is not necessary in most instances, as both Windows and Apple have built-in systems to perform this function. All virus checking software depends on receiving security updates. This ensures that any new vulnerabilities which have been identified are protected in your system. You can manually request an update or have auto-update turned on in your system.

Windows:  Windows Defender protects Windows machines, but ensure yours is up-to-date by following the instructions found here 

Apple: XProtect is built into modern Apple computers and provides good protection. To switch XProtect on, follow these instructions 

You can also use this software to check a flash drive or external drive to ensure no Malware is located there. This can be a good idea before downloading from a friend’s flash drive to your computer.

Downloading files

Consider these three things when you need to download a file from the internet: the source of the file, the file size and what comes with the file.

The source

It is safest to download a file from the developer’s website. Even though you may find the file in multiple locations, the developer has a vested interest in your security and so they are the safest place to get the software.

Search for the reputation of both the software and its developer before choosing their product. You may be redirected to a mirror site for download (a mirror site is housed on a server closer to your physical location and improves download times), so check the mirror’s reputation before proceeding if you have any concerns.

File size

Identifying the file size before download can be important:

  • Is your system capable of running the file?
  • How much space will it take up on your hard drive?
  • How much of your internet allowance will it consume?

Extra products

Many software companies include extra products with their download. Unless you choose to ‘opt out’, those other products you were not expecting will be downloaded as well. This can include task bars on your browser, or other software packages, and they will consume data.

‘Opt out’ means finding the appropriate check box/es and deselect them to stop them being downloaded.