The Internet is a wonderful tool for ministry, yet it is fraught with danger. To protect yourself, your equipment and your church, here are my top five cyber security musts for ministry.
1. Internet filtering. To avoid the deviously driven and inappropriate content available on the Internet, employ an Internet filter. There are many available, but one I use and recommend is OpenDNS.com. It is free or reasonably priced. This ad-driven Internet filter is effective and customizable. There is no need to purchase separate software for each computer on your network. Complete instructions and a definition of how it works are available at OpenDNS.com.
2. Firewall protection (hardware/software designed to block SPAM, viruses and malware). Firewall companies are constantly working to adjust to the ever-evolving tactics of these programs. Microsoft Windows is the primary target of these destructive tools because of its prolific install base. Apple computers are not immune to these attacks, but rather represent a smaller, albeit more difficult target. In my opinion, the best values on the market today – which can change on a monthly basis – are Comodo Internet Security Plus and Bitdefender Internet Security (about $40 per computer to start). Unfortunately, there are no good options for this type of security free of charge.
3. WiFi Security. WiFi is a convenient and popular means of network connectivity. It is also – due to its untethered nature – susceptible to “freeloaders” and attackers. With a signal range of up to several hundred feet, it is best to “lock” or encrypt your WiFi network. Most popular home and small business class wireless routers or access points are user friendly and can be easily/automatically set up for encryption.
4. Data backup. Today, the technologies called network attached storage (NAS) and cloud storage are generally recommended with regard to home and small business data backup. NAS is more stationary in nature (locally installed) where cloud storage is more mobile/available in nature (accessible from anywhere one has an internet connection). The message here is: Back up your data! Computers may lose power or experience a power spike (instead of buying that expensive extended warranty on your computer, buy an Uninterruptible Power Supply); hardware components may fail; malicious software programs may cause catastrophic failure or corruption of data; and acts of God, such as fires and floods, may destroy computers.
5. Passwords. Passwords play an important role in the digital world, and some simple rules can help you keep up with “password pressure.” When creating a password, use at least the minimum requirements of the requesting site or software in terms of character count, alpha-numeric mix and case. Next, think of a phrase, memorable occasion or date and run them all together in a way that makes sense to you. Be aware that computer programs can “guess” passwords based on obvious information such as birth dates, family names, etc. Bottom line, the cyber world is a password world by necessity and we need to act like it by creating and maintaining good strong passwords.