SAFE USE AND CARE OF COMPUTERS

3.1       BEHAVIOUR IN THE COMPUTER LAB

 Computer lab forms a very important section of an organization or school and therefore strict rules in terms of behaviour of personnel/students working/studying in the lab needs to be put in place and adhered to.

One factor to be taken into consideration is the cost involved in setting up the lab including the cost of equipment. This should not be taken for granted and computers and other peripherals damaged in the short run could result in great losses to the organization.

Cleanliness is a factor that stands out in the lab. The personnel need to be clean while in the lab. Dust in the hands, oil on fingers is not allowed among personnel/students. Foodstuffs to the lab is not allowed as the broken pieces from such will ultimately find their way into the peripherals e.g keyboards, disk drive and so on.

Depending on what material cover is on the floor, certain shoes tend to cause a lot of distraction by making noise to the rest of the seated personnel. This slows down the work process as attention will definitely be shifted. External disks into the lab are not recommended as this may result in virus infection to the system in the lab from outside sources.

Internal disks should not be allowed to leave the room. Some stringent procedures should be laid down to check the personnel who ignore  the  rule.  If  this  is  not  observed,  it  may  lead  to  data  from  the organization being exposed to rivals or would be “hackers” – those who gain access to the system without authority.

Any mechanical or technical faults noted should always be reported to the technical personnel immediately for attention. Non-technical personnel should never attempt to deal with such a fault!

It is important also that every personnel make routine backup copies of every work done in the lab as this will save the organization from any data loss in the event of disaster.

Shutting down and booting of computers is very important. Strict procedures depending on the operating system specification should be adhered to, otherwise damages to the disk in the long run and fragmentation of files and storage in the storage location will happen. This will cause delays in reading and writing to the same. All equipment should not be moved around the lab rather they should always be used where they are installed!

Changing of peripherals from one machine to another is not an encouraged practice. Let a mouse meant for machine A remain the machine; if it does not work, please ask a technical personnel to attend to it, but do not interchange it with another!

 

3.2                   HANDLING OF MATERIALS AND EQUIPMENT

Handling of some materials and equipments in the lab should be a privilege. In other words, some disks and special machines like a server (in the case of a network) should not be for everyone, only those authorized should be allowed for example to keep installation disks and so on.

Generally the computers and peripherals in the laboratory should always be handled with care since all of them have soldered electronic parts within them that when poorly handled and perhaps dropped then such parts will always either break or be dislocated. This will mean the equipment is damaged. It is recommended that every movement to machines in the lab be done using a trolley. No equipment should ever leave the lab unless with direct authority from the right person.

Computer cables should, if detached, be properly returned each to the right machine. Technical operations in the lab should be left for only technical personnel. If every Tom, Dick and Harry in the lab assume to repair every damaged equipment, then more will be worse off than they were.

Disks should be kept from natural hazards like excessive temperatures,  water and dust  places  and a way from  magnets  if  data integrity is to be maintained.

 

3.3                   FIRE AND ACCIDENTS

 Fire and other accidents in the lab are possibilities. Such accidents would include electrocution of an employee/student, slipping and falling on a slippery floor.

Fire is a big threat to data loss and equipment. Every lab should always offer training of how to handle fir in thee event of such calamity and of course fir-fighting equipment like fire extinguishers for example hand held CO2 and BCF extinguishers should always be available.

Data should also always be kept in fireproof safes to avoid loss of data loss in such event. Insuring of equipment and software in the organization with insurance firms will help since after such an accident, the firm is paid.

 

3.4                   CHEMICALS AND COMBUSTIBLE MATERIAL

Chemicals and combustible materials should always be located on special places. False floors and ceilings should always be available for chemicals like fluorocarbon fluid used as a cooling agent for mainframe. Such pipes and ducts should pass either up on false ceilings or below false floors.

Combustible materials like fire extinguishers should be located in places visible to everyone but with strict instructions to be touched only in the event of a fire break out. Other materials that could be harmful to the environment should be transmitted through properly located ducts.

 

3.5                   VENTILATION IN THE COMPUTER LAB/WORKING AREA

 Windows provide adequate ventilation in labs. Such windows must not be very wide as such will always be vulnerable to entry by intruders. Any ventilation apart from the window should always be higher up and very small in size. Every ventilation again, mostly windows, should have a well-dropped curtain so as to keep private the operations in the lab.

 

3.6                   SAFETY PRECAUTIONS AND PRACTICES 

  • Cabling

Cables in the lab should be properly located either on false floor or ceiling or along the walls so as to avoid interference for example with communication coolers in the lab. Cables put haphazardly may result in possible power disconnection if stepped on or pushed around.

3.6.2          Stable Power Supply

Provision for stable, adequate and independent power supply is very important. Fluctuation in voltage frequency, sudden cut in power supply and spikes cause damages to the computer system. Interruption of power supply for example will damage disks, damage the processor and spikes will cause loss of data and fluctuations, voltage frequency will cut off other areas from the return.

As  a precaution,  large  batteries,  Uninterrupted Power  Supply (UPS) and generators should always be on standby to such a crisis.

3.6.3          Burglar Proofing Counter

All doors to the computer lab should be burglar proof. This is a physical security measure since this will avert any attempts by intruders to break in and interfere with data and equipment in the lab.

3.6.4          Ventilation

It is a good practice to include ventilation in a computer room but the same should not provide an entrance to hackers to tamper with data.

 

3.6.5          Floor space

The space on the floor should be wide enough to provide a thorough route for equipment installation and other movements of the trolley to transfer equipment. It should also provide for an emergency exit.

NB: Slippery floors are not recommended in a computer lab. Such a floor if there is, should be covered with mats and the like.

 

VDU LEGISLATION

This is a legislation (British) that was passed in 1990 for frequent users of computer screens in the lab. It states as follows:

  1. One should not use a computer for more than one hour
  2. While using the VDU, the eyes should not look at the screen directly but at an angle of 30°-60°.
  3. The distance from the screen should be between 300mm-480mm.
  4. While using the keyboard, the arms and elbows should be at right angles and parallel to the
  5. The seats and desks in the lab should be adjustable to the users height this is to aid (iv) and avoid Repetitive Strains Injuries (RSI) of the fingers and The seats should have backrests!
  6. All seats in the lab should be fitted with castors – to make them mobile and less

NB: An Anti-glare screen is still recommended.

COMPUTER LAB DESIGN

Before we look at the safety regulations in the lab, it is vital to look at what factors must be put into consideration when designing a computer room.

Constraints of Computer Room

The following requirements must be observed in any computer room design:

  • The need for air conditioning
  • The dimensions of size of the lab
  • The need to observe cleanliness
  • Equipment sitting in the lab
  • Accessibility for machinery maintenance and media re-supply.
  • Consideration for health and safety
  • Consideration for noise

Air Conditioning

Air conditioning is very essential in the computer room where main frames are housed or some minicomputers together with their associated peripherals. Most devices however, usually contain their own environmental controls that are automatic for example fans, filters and sealed units.

Air conditioning is done to enable control the following:

  • Temperature for equipment should be between 18°C and 24°
  • Humidity this helps to avoid moisture precipitation and build up of electrostatic Recommended humility should be 45% – 55%.
  • Dust control disk media require high level of cleanliness. Processors with highly packed electronics require high levels of cleanliness. To  help  keep  high  level  of  cleanliness,  the  lab  should have positive pressure, air lock and sticking nuts on the floors.

 

Dimensions of the Lab

The  size  of  the  computer  room should  take  into    account the following:

  • Requirements specified by the equipment supplier
  • Operating conditions and
  • The need for future

The height should be enough to provide for false floors and ceiling to help spread equipment loads provide safe cable paths and air ducts.

 

Accessibility

While installing equipment in the lab, there must be a provision for a through route, which is also important for emergency exit. Only for security purposes should such a route be closed.

Corridors of the lab must be high enough with double doors and floors, stairs or lifts must be strong enough t bear the load of equipment. It is often recommended that ground floor should be used but this again has many security risks.

Reception should always be spacious enough to allow for storage of trolleys (used for moving equipment around the lab).

 

Equipment Sitting

Design of the sitting equipment should always be such that it ensures the workflow of the operator and minimizes the walking distance from one equipment to another. This means for example that the location of a stand-alone computer and the printer should be close enough to ease the work!

 

Health and Safety

For the sake of health and safety of the staff and equipment, the following should be observed:

1.   Lighting

There should be a provision for large lighting so as to avoid minimized reflections and glare. A further provision should be for emergency lighting.

2.   Alarms

Fire alarms in the lab must be very clear (audible) and visible from any angle you are placed. This will allow for quick action and reaction in the event of a fire break out.

3.    Communications

To avoid noise in the lab, telephone lines should be strategically placed with visible indicators for quick response.

4.   Physical security

General:

  • Only authorized personnel should be allowed into the computer room.
  • The lab should not have any outside walls to keep off
  • The lab should have small windows’ provision for ventilation.
  • Video cameras   should  be  on to       monitor   the activities           of         the personnel and

 

5.    Fire

Alarms should be in place as discussed earlier. Automatic detection of smoke and electrocuting system should be provided for. In the computer room, there should be hand held Co2 and BCF extinguishers. The personnel should be given evacuation training in the event of the fire break out.

6.     Flooding

Computer labs should never be sited in basements where they are vulnerable to floods. No water pipes should be placed under, over or in the computer rooms. This is because water is likely to destroy equipment, programs and data in the lab.

7.    Power

The computer room should have independent power supply, stable and adequate with shrouded panic off button. Problems with power supply come in three main forms:

  • Supply interruption is caused by a number of factors that include transformer failure,  cutting  of  supply  lines  by  accident,  by  people, lightening and so
  • Spike this is a voltage level imposed onto the supply by interface source such as switches, electromechanical devices and so on.

The problem caused by spikes is generally loss of data as soon as power is removed. Disk files also get corrupted when store cycles are interrupted by removal of power.

  • Voltage Frequency Variation this is variation or fluctuation in the voltage frequency of electricity Such fluctuations normally do not have effect since in most computers, there are power supply units that are designed to adequately cope with any small fluctuations Problems caused by voltage frequency variations is generally loss of users in the sense that terminal links get broken in those parts of a network whose power is interrupted or destroyed. So this problem is normally experienced when computers are networked.

When designing a computer lab, it is important to have a stand by generator, large batteries or other uninterrupted power supply (UPS) units so that in the event of power failure, the data is not lost, or users disconnected or disk media damaged etc.

 

3.6.6          Dust/Dump Proof

Disk storage media and processor require a high level of cleanliness and standard temperature in order to maintain the data stored and of course for power to adequately function.

The lab should therefore have a positive pressure, suitable building materials to reduce dust, special floor covering to reduce the dumpness and so on.

3.6.7          Lighting

The computer lab should have adequate lighting. This lighting should be large enough to minimize reflections and glare on the part of the user. There should also be a provision for emergency lighting.

 

3.6.8          Standard Furniture

The furniture used in the lab, that is the table on which the machine is placed should be stable and firm with enough room under for the user’s legs and clearance to allow posture changes. The surface of desk should be spacious enough to allow flexible arrangements of items, it should be glare free.

The chair should be adjustable as to allow different personnel of different heights to use the desk.

 

3.6.9          Fire Fighting Equipment

Provision   for  the  fighting  equipment in the  lab is vital. Fire extinguishers like hand held BCF and Co2 extinguishers should never miss. Supply equipment should always be located in visible places for staffs. More important is the adequate training of how to handle such

equipment and precaution techniques for the personnel.

 

3.7                   POSSIBLE CAUSES OF LOSS OF PROGRAMS AND DATA

 

Loss of programs and data to the organization results in loss of information that may not be put in monetary value. Some of the causes include:

 

3.7.1          Power Supply

Power supply problem result in two forms:

Power supply interruption – is one form which can be caused by transformer  failure,  cutting  of  supply  lines,  by  accident,  by  people, lightening and the like, inadvertent switching off of the machine also could interrupt power supply.

Spike – is the second form of power supply problem, this is a situation where a voltage level is imposed onto the supply by interference source such as switches, electromechanical devices and so on.

All these forms of power problems especially supply interruption and spikes result in damage to disk heads which often crush when power is suddenly removed. This will mean loss of data since it will be hard to read or write to such a disk. Spikes often result in serious loss of data since RAM being volatile losses data immediately power supply is cut off.

Disk files also get crumpled when stores are interrupted by removal of power.

 

3.7.2          Virus

A virus is a peace of software (program) that replicates itself without the user intending it or noticing it. Viruses often affect our computers having been brought about by hardware/software engineers who move from one computer to another carrying out demonstrations or through external infected disks, which are brought into the lab. Such disks are often infected with boot sector virus (boot sector is the first partition of the hard disk/floppy). When it (infected disk) is put into the drive, it will be loaded into memory. The disk is now infected since the memory to which it must be loaded first is now infected.

A virus usually has many effects for example replication where a virus divides itself repeatedly thus spoiling the data on the screen/memory/or disk.

Viruses have so many effects they cause to data/information and to the user. What we need to note here is simply the fact that viruses will change or modify the data that was stored to take a different format that is never useful to the operator.

 

3.7.3          Accidental Erasure

It is possible that the user without him wanting it, could erroneously erase data. This usually comes about for instance while using a delete command say in Ms – Dos(next chapter), one happens to delete a whole directory while the intention was to delete a single file in the directory. As will happen, one uses a disk command like disk copy without identifying the source diskette from the destination disk. If the two are mixed, then it is possible to wipe the contents of the source disks erroneously.

3.7.4          Crashing Disks

Disk heads, as mentioned earlier, often crush when there is sudden power supply disconnection. Data is often lost since reading from one disk and writing to them is not possible. This means that data in that disk was lost.

3.7.5          Poor Storage of Disks

We said that the disks require very high levels of cleanliness above any other. Dusts will clog the disk head. That causes a problem in reading and writing to the disk. Storing disks in dump places and very dry places have effects on the disks, surface will either become too delicate or fold away from its shape. All these minimize the reading and writing processes to data in the disk.

3.7.6          Unauthorized Access

Only authorized personnel should always be allowed into the lab. It is possible that hackers could gain access to the room and “steal” data/information, which could be tampered with in some way or even a virus infected into the system.

Also unauthorized persons could perform some fraud with the data for say personal gain at the expense of the organization. A hacker could gain access to for example change an existing invoice to reflect a higher or lower bill, clear an invoice, etc.

3.8                   PRECAUTIONS

 The following precautions should be put in place to avert the possible loss of data through the risks identified above.

3.8.1        Power Failure

Power failure is a risk to data in the organizations. Precautions to be taken include:

Regular Saving of Documents/Files

The user of the system should always ensure that the work is saved as  regularly  as  possible,  say  after  every  5  to  10  minutes.  Some application will always do this automatically for the user. If you don’t save your work periodically, then any power interruption/spike will mean all the work you did will be lost.

Use of UPS

UPS in short for Uninterrupted Power Supply. This is a simple device that consists of suitable sized strapped across the input supply. Its size is dependent upon the capacity of the system it is required to support and for how long. This method can be interrupt driven from a simple hardware dictation circuit which automatically locks the user out as soon as an interruption is detected and all data is automatically stored and also safely packed before the system is switched off.

Use of Batteries and Generators

Standby generator systems together with large batteries are necessary to sustain the continuity of computer facilities in such organizations  as  hospitals,  military  installations,  factories  and  some offices. In the event of power interruption, what happens is that the system is first maintained by the battery while the generator is started up. 3.8.2Virus

The following precautions should be adhered to so as to guard against virus:

1. Write Protection Disks

Every floppy 3½ disk contains a physical write protect tab on the left hand corner that slides down to indicate its “on”. When the disk is write protected,  it  means  you  cannot  be  able  to  write  anything  or  change  a word in it, you can only read! This will protect you against virus since it cannot allow any external data of any form!

 

2. Restriction of Disk Movement

Strict procedures should always be put in place and adhered to by all IT staff. Such software will ask the user to “repair” hard disks and floppies as well as the boot sector from viruses. Such a procedure should be for the sake of data integrity, no disk from the organization should leave the computer room and at the same time any external disk should not be used in the system unless “sheep dipping” is carried out. The term simply means scanning the disk for viruses first before being used.

 

3. Disable Disk Drives

Another viable alternative to virus protection would be to physically remove all the disk drives once the normal working hours are over. This should be done by the technical staff only. When this is done, it means that even if you had your disk to use you cannot because the disk drive to let you read and write to the disk is not there. This will help protect the organization against boor sector virus and the like.

 

 4. Anti Virus Software

Software are available in the market today that help to disinfect diskettes (disks) and of course the main memory from the virus infection. Since new viruses come up often, it is always recommended that such software installed into your system should be regularly updated or a newer more powerful one installed. Such software is often easy to use once installed.

Examples of such software include: Norton Anti-virus, Dr. Solomon Anti-virus Tool Kit, F-Prot Professional etc. Such software will scan and ask the user to “repair” hard disks and floppies as well as the boot sector from viruses.

 

3.8.3          Accidental Erasure

When a file, document, software is accidentally erased, it is possible that you can put in place some recovery procedures provided for in the form of utilities by the operating software. Depending on the operating system  in  use,  and  the  application  software,  the  user  can  be  able  to undelete an “already deleted file” or document by simply evoking the utility. If the data was lost as a result of formatting a disk, a utility to unformat the same could be provided. These utilities will therefore help to recover such accidental lost data.

Another precaution to put in place would always be to use backup copies of the information lost. A backup copy is simply the alternative copy that was made of the information contained in a particular disk. This as the explanation states will help the organization to continue working without any hitches.

Another option is to use fireproof safes (heat-resistant safes). Heat is a threat to backup copies made on diskettes. Diskettes tend to fold under excessive heat. To avoid the loss of data in this way, it is recommended that such disks be kept in heat resistant safe always.

 

3.8.4          Crashing Disks

Power  interruption,  we  said,  causes  the  disk  heads  to  crash.  This causes a problem in reading and writing to the same disks. A precaution here would be to use backup copies of the same disks in the event of such a crash.

To avoid such a crash, it would be important to observe precautions for power failure.

 

3.8.5          Poor Storage and Handling Disks

Disks are very sensitive storage media and a lot of care needs to be taken to ensure that the data/information stored in them is safe and that the disk can be read and written to. Most floppy disks are covered by plastic material which react easily to excessive temperatures like direct sunlight or very cold dump situations. Therefore, to preserve the disks, keep them away from sunlight as this is likely to cover the plastic envelope covering the disk which will ultimately affect reading and writing; keep them away from water which would make the disk surface dump and hence affect the storage layers (sectors, tracks and cylinders) where data is stored.

Disks should also be kept away from dust environment, as those again will make the disk drive heads. This will cause loss of data if the disk heads cannot read and write.

The mode of storage to these magnetic disks is by magnetism of the positive and the negative charges of the data to be stored. If disks are kept  next  to  magnets,  it  is  possible  that  the  demagnetization  of  this sequence could be altered. This will of course destroy the data stored in the disk.

 

3.8.6          Unauthorized Access

Access to the computer room should be a privilege. Only those personnel working there should be allowed in. when access to the lab is not restricted, then it becomes easy for hackers to gain access to the system and hence destroy or “steal” information. Fraudulent activities by the employees on information like leaking confidential information to rivals for payment is also possible. Other intruders could also gain access to the system and hence destroy or carry out ridiculous acts like literally stealing the equipment.

Some files attributes should also be put in place to avert access to data stored. For example, the use of passwords should be encouraged; data encryption method should also be adopted.

Passwords could be a number(s) or a word that is only known to one person or some “trusted” personnel in a department or a sector that will enable the user to gain access to the system or a particular document or file. The use of passwords will ensure that only those people who know the password could gain access to those files in the system. Passwords

if to be used, should always be changed periodically in case it has been leaked to someone who is not authorized to know it.

Data encryption is a way of writing a particular information using a given grid that could only be deciphered by you or a group of personnel authorized to for example: to encrypt the following statement in a 5 x 4 grid (i.e a row is 5 and a column is 4 letters) would be:

The statement: MEET ME TONIGHT AT 8 MEET .ME . TO NIGHT . AT . 8

The statement to be stored as data is MMN.EEIAE.GTTTH..OT8

 The statement LICENCED TO KILL could be encrypted as LCOLIE..CDK.E.I.NTL. in a 5 x 4 grid i.e.

LICEN LICENCED.T O.KILL

NB: Note that a word to be encrypted in full as you move along the row. Separate each space by a dot. To read, read the first letter in the first column and move down the column. Each dot is a space.

 

3.9    SUMMARY

 Factors to consider when designing a computer lab are the following: Dimension,  accessibility,  sitting  of  equipment,  health  and  safety  of personnel, lighting, power supply, physical security and noise.

Strict rules to the lab concerning behaviour as outlined should be observed.

For safety precautions on the lab, the following should always be considered: Fire fighting equipment, standard furniture, proper lighting, dust/dump-proof  lab,  proper  installations,  stale  power  supply  and burglarproof doors.

Possible causes of data loss and programs are the following: power failure, viruses, accidental erasure, erasing of disks, poor storage and handling of disks and unauthorized access by hackers and other intruders.

The following are precautions to be taken in the event of data loss from such risks mentioned.

  • Use UPS, large batteries and generators in the event of power failure.
  • Use of anti virus software, write protecting disks.
  • Movement
  • Disabling disk drives to protect against viruses or accidental
  • Use of undeleted and unformatted
  • Use of backup copies and heat resistant
  • Disks should be stored away from water, fire or excessive temperatures and away from magnets and should be kept in dust free
  • Use of passwords and encryption methods to protect files against unauthorized access by people.
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