Brown University Checklist for Protecting Information

1.0 Information Communicated Orally
2.0 Information Stored on Paper
3.0 Information Stored Electronically
3.1 Educating Yourself
3.2 Protecting Email
3.3 Restricting Access to Information on Your Desktop
3.4 Securing Mobile & Cellular Devices
3.5 Protecting Passwords
3.6 Safeguarding the Integrity of Information
3.7 Backing Up Information
3.8 Departmental Checklist
4.0 Assistance
5.0 Related Policies and Links

The following list of best practices will help to ensure that those using Brown's networked resources are in compliance with the Policy on the Handling of Brown Restricted Information.

1.0 Information Communicated Orally

  • Make it a practice not to discuss confidential information outside of the workplace or with anyone who does not have a specific need to know it.
  • Be aware of the potential for others to overhear communications about sensitive information in offices, on telephones, and in public places like elevators, restaurants, and sidewalks.

2.0 Information Stored on Paper

Documents that include confidential information like social security numbers; student education records; an individual's medical, benefits, compensation, loan, or financial aid data; and faculty and staff evaluations need to be secured during printing, transmission (including by fax), storage, and disposal.

  • Do not leave paper documents containing sensitive information unattended; protect them from the view of passers-by or office visitors.
  • Store paper documents containing sensitive information in locked files.
  • Do not leave the keys to file drawers containing confidential information in unlocked desk drawers or other areas accessible to unauthorized personnel.
  • Store paper documents that contain information that is critical to the conduct of University business in fireproof file cabinets. Keep copies in an alternate location.
  • Shred confidential paper documents that are no longer needed, and secure such documents until shredding occurs. If a shredding service is employed, ensure that the service provider has clearly defined procedures in the contractual agreement that protects discarded information, and that the provider is legally accountable for those procedures, with penalties in place for breach of contract.
  • Make arrangements to immediately retrieve or secure sensitive documents that are printed on copy machines, fax machines, and printers.
  • Double-check fax messages containing confidential information:
    • Recheck the recipient's number before you hit 'start.'
    • Verify the security arrangements for a fax's receipt prior to sending.
    • Verify that you are the intended recipient of faxes received on your machine.

3.0 Information Stored Electronically

All employees and users of networked computing devices on Brown's network have a role in protecting the University's information assets because their machines provide potential gateways to private information stored elsewhere on the network. Therefore, whether or not you deal directly with sensitive or confidential University information, you should take the following steps to reduce risk to Brown's information assets.

3.1 Educating Yourself

  • Read Brown's computing policies (, and understand their implications for the information for which you are responsible.
  • Know who your Department Computing Coordinator (DCC) is and what s/he can do for you.
  • Immediately advise your DCC or System Administrator of any suspicious activity on your computer or a suspected information system security compromise. The DCC or System Administrator will report the event to the Help Desk or to the Computing Incident Response Team (CIRT) for follow-up action.
  • Be mindful of how you are sharing or transmitting sensitive information across the network.

3.2 Protecting Email

  • Understand that email is not secure; it can be forged, and it does not afford privacy.
  • Install anti-malware software on your computer and ensure that it is set automatically update its definitions. (Brown distributes this software at no charge. Refer to the Software Catalog for downloads.)
  • Do not open unexpected email attachments, and do not download documents or software from unknown parties.
  • Clear email boxes of old messages on a regular basis by deleting unnecessary messages or archiving needed ones. Be sure to back up important email on a regular basis and secure the back-ups with encryption, passwords, or if in a physical form, in a locked desk or area.
  • Take precautions not to send anything by email that you wouldn't want disclosed to unknown parties. Recipients have been known to distribute information to unauthorized recipients or store it on unsecured machines, and viruses have been known to distribute archived email messages to unintended recipients.
  • Always use a secured connection when sending email, such as Brown's Secure Wireless Network when on campus and VPN when off campus.

3.3 Restricting Access to Information on Your Desktop

  • Orient your computer screen away from the view of people passing by.
  • Turn off your desktop computer at the end of the workday, unless automatic updates, backup processing, and/or various other maintenance operations are scheduled during off-hours.
  • Use a password-protected screen saver on your desktop computer and configure it to display after a reasonable period of non-use (10 minutes is recommended).
  • Use security devices to lock down computers that are in public or otherwise unsecured spaces.
  • Sanitize the hard drives of computers that you declare surplus and of those that are going out of service for other reasons to ensure that data is removed and not recoverable (see CIS instructions for data removal). Deleting files, moving files to "trash," and emptying the "trash" file is insufficient because the files can still be recovered.
  • Ensure that functions that enable data sharing on an individual workstation are either turned off or set to allow access only to authorized personnel.

3.4 Securing Mobile & Cellular Devices

Information stored on laptop computers, personal organizers (e.g., Blackberry, Palms), cellular phones, and other similar mobile devices is susceptible to equipment failure, damage, or theft. Information transmitted via wireless connections is not always secure - even networks using encryption are vulnerable to intruders.

  • Protect and secure mobile devices from theft at all times.
  • Use internal firewalls and strong authentication when transmitting information via wireless technologies (see the Connect to Brown's Secure Wireless Network for details).
  • Use personal firewalls on laptops that will access the Brown Network from a remote location.
  • Back up the data on your mobile devices on a regular basis.
  • Change batteries on mobile devices as soon as the "low battery" prompt appears to avoid losing information, configurations, and settings.

3.5 Protecting Passwords

  • Adhere to Brown's Computing Passwords Policy.
  • Use passwords that are easy for you to remember but impossible for someone else to guess:
    • Passwords should not consist of a word that can be found in a dictionary.
    • Brown network passwords should be at least 10 characters in length and consist of a combination of numeric characters, mixed upper and lower case alpha characters, and at least one special character.
    • Consider using the first letter of each word in a phrase or sentence that you can easily remember. For example, "pCrbEi#1imb" is derived from "Professor Carberry is #1 in my book."
  • Secure your passwords, and restrict access to them. Passwords written on a post-it in a work area, placed under a keyboard, or stored in an unlocked desk drawer are not safe from unauthorized access.
  • Never share your passwords or accounts.
  • Change your passwords at least every 6 months. The more sensitive the information being protected, the more frequently you should change your passwords.
  • Understand how to properly restrict file sharing on your computer to mitigate the risk of unintentionally granting access to unknown parties.

3.6 Safeguarding the Integrity of Information

  • Apply system updates for your desktop systems and department servers' operating systems and their integrated network services (e.g., email and web browsers) in a timely manner.
  • Keep local applications updated and patched. Configure your computer to automatically download and install the latest patches. (Contact your DCC for guidance.)
  • Install a personal firewall and keep it set to automatically or regularly download and install updates.
  • Password protect documents containing sensitive information. (see Password protect a document for tips)
  • Store all confidential data on a centrally managed server and not on individual workstations or laptops whenever possible.
  • Do not place any sensitive information in an unsecured online location.
  • Secure local servers in a locked room and limit the access to the room to system administrators only.
  • Ensure that remote access (from off campus) connections are done securely using SSH or VPN.

3.7 Backing Up Information

  • Know the back-up and recovery strategies for the information for which you are responsible.
  • Know whether your data is backed up centrally and/or locally.
  • Know the frequency with which the back-ups occur.
  • Know who is responsible for backing up your information.
  • Make sure that the recovery procedures for your information have been tested.
  • Know where your back-ups are stored.
  • Store back-ups of critical information in an alternate location, preferably in another building across campus or off-site.
  • Make sure that private information stored on back-ups in alternate locations is protected from unauthorized access.
  • Know how you will recover critical data and resume related business operations in the event of loss of power, disruption of network services, theft of your computing device, or inability to access your office or building.
  • Destroy CDs and delete unneeded files containing sensitive information on a regular basis.

3.8 Departmental Checklist

  • Review the list of individuals who have access to shared drives used by the department at least annually.
  • Review the need for shared IDs and eliminate them wherever possible. Exceptions must be approved by the Director of Information Technology Security (
  • Remove authorization for access to systems (for individuals who have left the department or no longer require access) in a timely manner. (See the Computing Accounts Management Policy for more details.)
  • Designate a locked cabinet for back-up data and a procedure that includes access to media (who has keys) and procedures for clearly labeling all backup data.
  • On shared workstations, establish individual accounts for everyone who will use the device.

4.0 Assistance

Contact your DCC or System Administrator first for assistance with any questions you might have. If you don't have a DCC, or if you need additional help with assessing your risk or protecting your electronic information, please contact the IT Service Center.

5.0 Related Policies & Links

Acceptable Use Policy
Brown Restricted Information, Policy on the Handling of
Computing Passwords Policy

Questions or comments to:

Effective Date: December 22, 2003
Last Reviewed: February, 2016