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Screensaver: Is your system's information protected?

Released: 18 Feb 1999


by Joe Fuller
56th Fighter Wing Information Assurance Office

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. (AFPN) -- One part of technology that has been the most creative is the screensaver. No longer is the monitor just a blank screen. Instead, desktops display pictures of fa milies, children, patterns that move or distort in all directions or display messages of encouragement, while creating a kaleidoscope of colors.

No matter what type of picture appears on the monitor, when people leave their workstations, they often leave everything as is. For example, e-mail is left on, the performance report is left open, the spreadsheet of the budget report remains open ready to be e-mailed to a colleague, or the travel claim form partially filled in with personal information remains displayed.

This happens every minute of every business day in many offices at military bases throughout the world. The reason is that it's more convenient to come back to a workstation that's ready to go. A person can quickly get back to the important work that must be done.

That's fine as long as the screensaver activates and is password protected. Without it, the monitor displays a nice picture, but the information on the system is susceptible to compromise.

Now a "bad guy" passing by, admiring your nice screensaver, can sit down at your workstation and gain access to your e-mail account and other privileged information without you ever knowing it.

The most dangerous part is access to your e-mail system. Having stolen your identity, they can send anything to anyone in the world, via the Internet. The consequences could be devastating. Screensavers protect the monitor and activate the password function to protect information and networks from compromise.

The screensaver, protected with a password using alphanumeric characters, is the first line of defense to protecting you, your career, and the mission.

Whether there is a "bad guy" in your neighborhood or not, isn't it smart to keep your doors locked?

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* Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.