Research Instruction & Information Technology Group

Data Protection

Learn methods of data protection recommended by the RIIT Group.

There are several methods of Data Protection the RIIT Group recommends to safeguard your data and computer from hackers to minimize attacks/exposure and to recover your data in the event of an attack.


We are constantly being inundated with emails containing viruses, spyware, Trojans at an increasing rate everyday. As part of your defense against these threats, we strongly recommend installing a reputable antivirus software on your computer.  All Smeal machines have Symantec Endpoint Protection installed as part of our setup process.  As Smeal faculty/staff, you are able to install that same software on your home machine.  Please check under Virus/Detection Spyware Tools and choose Symantec AntiVirus.  Please note, you must regularly run LiveUpdate in order to obtain the latest definition files.  In addition, we’ve included some tips below that should help in keeping your office or home computer virus-free.

PSU Virus Information

If you suspect that your computer is infected by a virus/worm, please remove it from the network immediately, by disconnecting the blue network cable from your computer and call the RIIT Group as soon as possible at 865-0366.

Some helpful tips:

  • Never open unsolicited email
  • Microsoft, Symantec, and most other software companies will never send executables, patches or fixes, nor will they request that you update sensitive information such as passwords, via email.
  • Never open any email attachments with the following file extensions:
    • .vbs
    • .bat
    • .exe
    • .pif
    • .com
    • .scr
    • .zip
  • Never open any email attachments with double file extensions. In most cases, the last extension is the actual one. So, for instance, an attachment named myphoto.jpg.exe is an executable and not a jpg picture file
  • Never open any emails with questionable subject lines. In addition to strange subject lines and strange content in the email, a large number of virus infected emails/attachments appear with odd text, poorly worded sentences or incorrect grammar. The subject or content may be strange looking andout of context
  • Most virus warnings in circulation are hoaxes or actually contain viruses. Please do not pass them on to others but if you are concerned, please feel free to email them to us so we can help determine their validity
  • If you are unsure about a file, you can always save it to your desktop or access it through your attachments folder, right click on the file and choose Scan for Viruses from the menu
  • Update your antivirus definition files regularly. Your antivirus software can only find viruses when it recognizes them. Updating the virus definitions regularly allows your antivirus software to protect you from any new viruses that may be surfacing. Your office machines are set to update automatically but it is still prudent to check the dates (just click on the gold shield in the lower right hand corner of your screen and note the date next to the Live Update button. The date should always fall within the prior week)
  • We have also seen an increase in virus spoofing. Spoofing generally occurs when a machine is infected and the virus uses random names and email addresses taken from somewhere on the infected computer to send itself to others. So, the From: and the To: can both be chosen at random and may not reflect the actual sender of the email. Thus, if your email address is used for the From: field, you may get complaints from others for sending virus infected emails when they have not actually originated from your machine. In this same manner, you may be in the To: field and receiving emails that look like they're coming from your coworker when they may be originating from an infected machine that has both your email and your coworker's email in their address books or inbox, etc.
  • The best defense is to never open an attachment you weren't expecting. When you receive any unsolicited or unexpected attachments, you should always confirm with the sender that the attachment is indeed legitimate and originated from them and scan the file before opening it.

Data Backup

File backup is crucial to protecting your data in the event of a hard disk failure or inadvertent file deletion. Penn State offers a centralized backup system (Tivoli Storage Manager or TSM) that works over the network to backup what you want, when you want and all in an automated process that works over the network.  It is very inexpensive, $.03 per gigabyte, per month and is stored in secure tape libraries with failsafe backup systems by central IT.  The college is in the process of setting up a required TSM account for all academic departments within Smeal and to be subsidized by the Dean’s Office.  More information on this will follow.

Data Classification Scheme

The primary project goal of the Data Classification Scheme is to assure the privacy of critical information and to comply with internal policies and external regulations affecting Penn State.

The Information Privacy and Security (IPAS) Project is sponsored by the Office of Security Operations and Services, a unit of ITS, and the Privacy Office, a unit of the Corporate Controller Office.

The Smeal College has been tasked with ensuring that all machines on the PSU network and any machine used for PSU work is scanned to help mitigate the risk of personally identifiable information or PII loss. Scanning is done via a client-server application that scans systems for SSNs, credit cards, and bank account information. Overall, the results can be used to help identify and remove or protect such Personally Identifiable Information (PII), which could have a significant impact on areas such as eDiscovery and regulatory compliance reporting.

You may already have or soon will be receiving your scanning reports. They will be accompanied by instructions that will aid you in removing any PII found on your machine. They will be accompanied by a certification form where you can sign off that you have removed all PII to the best of your knowledge

In the case of a compromised machine (i.e. hacked, virus infected and sending out info on the network, etc.) the PSU security office will inform us and ask us to run a more intensive scan on the computer. If any PII is found on the machine, we may be asked to provide the hard drive to the security office for forensic analysis. In most cases, it results in notifications that have to be made to the SSN holders whose PII may have been compromised. This can be very harmful to the University and to the College in terms of reputation and in monetary terms as well. Thus, it is imperative that you remove any existing PII from your computers.

Find more information on the University effort.