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Computer Security

© 2006 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from Leadership Handbooks of Practical Theology

It’s not a matter of if a computer will crash, but when.  Thus it’s important to protect computer systems from problems that will arise.

Viruses, Spyware, and Worse!
In our Internet-connected world we are constantly under attack by programs written to wreck our day.  These programs can install themselves when we visit websites, look at graphic files (like pictures), or open unsolicited email.

These attacks come in the form of viruses (malicious programs that do nothing more than crash computers), trojans (programs that let others take over your computer and use it for their purposes, turning it into a “zombie”), and spyware (programs that try to collect personal information— like credit card numbers and passwords— for someone else’s gain).  And there’s a new kid on the block called a rootkit that does these in an undetectable way!

It is extremely important to run software on Internet-connected computers to protect them from these hazards.  This software should always be running, and should be checking its manufacturer’s website daily for updates to help it identify new hazards.  We recommend to most of our clients McAfee’s anti-virus software (www.mcafee.com) and LavaSoft’s Ad-Aware anti-spyware software (www.lavasoft.com).

Electrical Problems

Electrical current irregularities cause the second greatest number of system problems.  Churches can protect themselves from impure and unstable electricity in different ways, depending on the setup.

  • Desktop computers.  If the computer is a standalone system or a network workstation, we recommend using a high-quality surge protector.  Surge protectors vary widely in effectiveness and cost.  It’s important that the unit have at least a two-year warranty and carry Underwriters Laboratory’s listings UL 1449 listed (high level of surge suppression) and UL 497A ( for modem and communication protection if those are used).
  • Network servers.  If computers are networked, each network server (computers that serve all of the connected workstations) should have an uninterruptable power supply (UPS) for maximum electrical protection.  The UPS should be online (always operating) rather than on standby (waiting for a problem to occur); be rated at 600,000 to 1,200,000 volt-amps; switch on in less than 2 milliseconds; be able to shut the system down without an operator; include surge protection, brown-out protection, and noise filtering; have a battery life long enough to shut the server down in an orderly manner when the power fails, and have at least a two-year warranty.  We recommend American Power Conversion Smart UPSs (www.apc.com).

User Error
People make mistakes, so it is good to provide security against human error too.  We recommend four strategies:

  • Limiting access.  Allowing only those approved to use the computer to do so eliminates many problems.  Computers should be password protected so that only those who know the password can access their files, and the passwords should be difficult to guess.
  • Training.  Often the most neglected computer system component, training in the efficient use of programs and safe methods for Internet use saves downtime and increases user productivity.
  • Data backup.  It’s best to regularly back up computer data onto CDs, DVDs, or tape media.
    • Standalone computers.  We recommend a minimum of two sets of backup media that are rotated.
    • Network servers.  Churches with networks should back up their entire servers to tape each weeknight.  Servers can be programmed to do this overnight automatically.
    • Offsite storage / rotation.  To protect against larger disasters, we recommend that a copy of the backup be taken to a different location.  Network backups should rotate a tape off-site weekly, standalone computers should do this periodically too.  Some churches may even want to consider backing up their database over the Internet nightly.
  • Hard drive images.  We recommend using software to take a full picture of workstation hard drives when originally configured.  This is a great way to “reset” a system that has become problematic.
    • Standalone computers.  Check with your computer manufacturer to see if they included this feature on the system you purchased.  If not, and if you’re running a version of Microsoft Windows® XP, it includes a utility that allows you to go back to a recent configuration that you believe was good.
    • Network workstations.  We recommend using Zenworks (www.zenworks.com) to image systems and manage their updates.

When churches follow these guidelines, data will be there when they need it, and at minimal cost.

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