As more students use the campus computer labs to check their e-mail, the need for responsible computing grows. An unattended computer with the e-mail still running is a perfect opportunity for mischief.
First of all, users need to change their account passwords at least every other month. Avoid common passwords such as pet names, Social Security numbers, and birthdays. Choose a combination of numbers, letters, and punctuation marks. The less your password looks like an English word (frontwards or backwards), the harder it will be to break.
When we use public computer labs, computing privacy is virtually impossible. People will be roaming around, staring off into space, or looking over your shoulder, so don't type in passwords until you are fairly sure no one is watching your fingers too closely. This may make you feel a bit paranoid the first couple of times, but safety involves not only the user but his environment as well.
While in the labs, one e-mail safety measure to take is as easy as hitting the break key and logging off a few times. This will help defer any simulation traps, programs that look like login screens but instead save or print everything you write for someone else to browse later. Usually, most computer safety occurs once you leave your computer. Remember to log out of e-mail before you move one step away from the computer. Even if you plan to leave your computer only for a minute, you should still shut off your e-mail. Students who have left to go to the vending machine in the hall can be gone long enough for another person to use their accounts.
When you do decide to leave the lab for the day, be cautious upon log out. Some terminals, such as the Tektronix 4207 and others, maintain a buffer of the screen display, even after logout. This means that after you leave, anyone can go over to your terminal and access, read and print out a record of every action taken by the computer while you used it.
Also if you use the mail option in the World-Wide Web browser, Netscape, be sure to clear the form under "Preferences" before leaving the lab, or the next person mailing with Netscape will be using your name and e-mail address.
E-mail safety is not that difficult to learn and is essential to practice in a time when people are becoming more dependent on computers and networks for communication, banking, and work. Keep your eyes peeled in the lab and if you desperately need a soda, remember the words "log out."
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