In today’s digitally-connected world, we are constantly exposed to electronic threats. And your church is just as vulnerable. Whether viruses, spam, trojans, malware, phishing or smishing schemes, hackers never stop trying to find ways attack.
What can you do to keep your ministry and personal computing safe?
Here are 12 best practices to protect your church’s computer systems.
- Install updates and patches. Make sure you are using the most up-to-date operating software. If using Microsoft Windows operating systems, make sure you are using the most current update. Microsoft releases new patches every Tuesday.
- Update your financial software. Developers release patches and updates to fix bugs and other vulnerabilities. The cost of the update, if any, will far outweigh the risk that you’ll face without the update.
- Stop using Microsoft Windows XP. If you are still using Windows XP, consider upgrading to Windows 7 or 8. Microsoft stopped supporting Windows XP on April 8, 2014. That means no more security updates. Unfortunately, some studies estimate 30% of Windows users are still using Windows XP, which could amount to 500 million computers. If that includes your church, your computer systems will be vulnerable to malware and hacking. Other software that you rely on may stop getting patched as well, if those software developers stop supporting XP too.
- Keep antivirus definitions up to date. While some anti-virus programs are free, others require annual subscriptions. Make sure you subscription is up to date, so that updates will be current. Microsoft Security Essentials is one program that is free and helps guard against viruses, spyware, and other malicious software. Another word of caution: If you are using Microsoft Security Essentials as your antivirus program AND Windows XP, your computer system is still vulnerable. Microsoft will stop providing anti-malware signature updates for Microsoft Security Essentials running on Windows XP systems on July 14, 2015.
- Backup your important electronic data each week. This includes your financial software, donor and member care files, office documents and personnel files. Implement a 2-tiered back up system: on week 1, backup data to a removable device. On week 2, backup data to a second removable device. On week 3, backup data to the first removable device, and so on. The redundancy of the tiered process provides an additional level of protection.
- Store your backup devices in a safe and secure location. One can be kept on a fire-proof safe in the church office, and the second backup can be maintained at a secure location off-site.
- Clean house. Remove programs on your computer desktop that you no longer use. If they are not being used regularly, they are most likely not being updated or patched. Spyware, Trojans, and hacks can attack these vulnerable programs and compromise your data, your network, and your security.
- Consider installing an automatic program updater. These automatic updaters will scan all your programs and let you know if you are running the latest versions. Two free solutions can be found at Secunia.com (free for up to 5 computers) and Filehippo.com.
- Install internet blocking software on any computers that connect to your church’s network.
- If you have multiple computer systems in your church, consider a company-wide policy on acceptable internet usage. Teach employees to be wary of unsolicited emails, and never click on any links in suspicious emails. For example, if you get a suspicious email from your bank, don’t click on the link embedded in the email. Instead, open your browser and manually type in the web address to your bank, or call the bank for more information.
- Be vigilant. Scrutinize the sites you visit on the internet. Some honest-looking websites can deliver malicious programs to your computer. Don’t open emails from people you don’t recognize.
- Stay informed. Keep abreast of current scams and attacks and ways to protect yourself and your church.
Visit OnGuardOnline.gov (http://www.onguardonline.gov/). This is the federal government’s website dedicated to help you be safe, secure and responsible online. It offers resources to help you, your family and your business, recognize and report scams, use technology safe and wisely, and protect yourself from identity theft.
If you want to dig deeper, visit the NSA’s website (www.nsa.gov) for easy-to-read, and user-friendly whitepapers on computer security, or the Internet Crime Complaint Center (www.ic3.gov) for a regularly updated list of internet schemes and prevention tips.
Photo: IntelFreePress | Flickr