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Recognize Possible Security Problems

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Sometimes security issues aren’t recognized right away because it’s difficult to tell the difference between your computer’s everyday quirks and things caused by a security problem. Here are a few common signs of possible security issues and what to do if they happen to you.

Security Problem: Computer Compromise

If your computer is infected with malware, such as a virus, worm, or other software that allows someone to control your computer remotely, you may notice some differences in how your computer works.

Learn to recognize potential signs that your computer has been compromised:

  • Your antivirus software, anti-spyware software, or personal firewall reports a problem.
  • When browsing the web, you see lots of pop-up windows, or your web browser takes you to different sites than expected.
  • Your computer seems slower than usual, crashes more often, or runs out of disk space unexpectedly.
  • You receive an email from Cornell Information Technologies alerting you that your network usage has increased significantly, even though you have not been using the Internet more than usual.
  • While browsing the web, you are redirected to a Cornell IT Security “Spam Alert” page to stop you from visiting a compromised website.

Be aware, if your computer is infected, the only solution may be to reinstall all of your computer’s software. Learn how to recover from a system compromise.

Security Problem: NetID Password Theft

The following are signs that someone has possibly stolen your NetID password and may be using it, without your knowledge, to commit fraud or other crimes:

  • You receive many notifications of undeliverable email messages or notice changes to how your email is working.
  • Your password stops working. This may indicate that whoever stole your NetID password has changed it.
  • You notice changes to your personal information on university systems.

If you have any reason to suspect your NetID password has been stolen, you should change your password and your security questions immediately. For more about why NetID passwords are stolen, how it happens, how to spot it, and what to do if it happens, see why NetID passwords are valuable.

Security Problem: Computer Theft

Both laptop and desktop computers are subject to theft on and off campus. If a computer you use for Cornell work is stolen, immediately report it to your department’s technical support staff. They will file a report with the Cornell Police. Do the same if you have lost any portable storage, such as external hard drives, USB thumb drives, CDs, DVDs, tapes, or diskettes.

If you don’t have technical support staff, call to report the theft to the Cornell Police at 607-255-1111.

Never leave your computer alone in a public area. Any computer in a public area needs to be physically secured. Learn more about working off campus securely.

“I often get an email telling me backup has failed. Is this a security problem?” Although this is not necessarily a sign of a security problem, it does have security implications, because your backup is what will be used to recover lost data should your computer be maliciously attacked, lost, or stolen. Any time your computer behaves unusually, contact your department’s technical support staff to report it. This way, even if the issue is not caused by a security risk, the problem can be addressed and you can work without unnecessary interruptions.


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