HOW TO: Protect Your PC in College

Heading off to college soon, or already in college? There are a few things you should know so that your PC is not the victim of harmful pranks, malicious attacks and other incidents that will happen during college. This guide will briefly describe a few things you can easily do to prevent many of these real-life events.

1) Put a password on your account and the administrator account. This one should be clearly obvious. Whenever you leave your computer, even to go to the restroom, press Windows+L to bring your computer to the password-protected screen. You can also setup your screensaver to prompt for a password after a few minutes of inactivity. By default Windows XP creates an Administrator account that cannot be seen unless you attempt to login via Safe Mode, commonly accessed by pressing F8 before Windows loads. Login to this account and apply a password if you did not when XP was installed.

2) Protect your computer from Live CD attacks. An easy way for people to gain access to your data is to put in a Linux Live CD and snatch your data or mess with it. To prevent this you need to put a password on your BIOS and disable the CD-ROM drive from the bootup sequence. To get into the BIOS, you often need to press the DELETE or INSERT key. Once in the BIOS look for something that regards boot up order and remove your CD-ROM drive from this. Also ensure that only the hard drive is being booted up from and does not allow for a USB key or such to be booted from. Before you leave, add a password and save changes. Also, make sure your computer's case is somewhat securely closed with screws, or even a lock. Most motherboards have a connector electrically closing two BERG pins, that can be removed to reset the BIOS password. If your case is closed, most people won't bother trying to reset the BIOS password.

The BIOS or Basic Input Output System defines important settings for your computer. Computer manufacturers have several BIOS's to choose from when manufacturing a motherboard but the Award BIOS is by far the most common. Please ask me for help or follow a guide if you do not know what your are doing in the BIOS. Setting something incorrectly can fry your computer or render it useless until you undo that change. If you need help navigating through your BIOS, Adrian's Rojak Pot has the best BIOS guide to date.

3) Other means of protection involve securing your PC to a strong structure via a metal cable, often a viable solution for laptops. This hampers efforts when somebody wants to actually steal your computer. Desktops can even use these cables. You can install special screws that contain a space for connecting to a cable as well as screws that have a lock built in. You might consider one of these for small computers such as SFF Shuttle's or Mac Minis.

For my Apple readers, you can enable a login password by going to Apple > System Preferences > Security under the Personal section. Check the boxes for "Require password to wake this computer from sleep or screen saver" and "Disable automatic login." Click Show All and then click on Desktop & Screen Saver. Click on the Screen Saver tab, and move the slider on the bottom to somewhere around 5 to 10 minutes. This is so that if you forget to log out or turn on the screen saver when you leave your computer, it will be secured in a few minutes. I also recommend clicking on Hot Corners and setting one of the corners to Start Screen Saver and then clicking OK. Now you can simply move your mouse to that corner and the screen saver will automatically start up, prompting for a password when you move the mouse again.

The most important thing is to always keep your door locked when you head out. However, this may not be the easiest thing when you have 3 other roommates, so taking my advice should ensure a safe computing environment. This article was inspired by one of these pranks. Fortunately, my computer was safe from Live CD's and nothing happened.