Turn Off Computers for Security?

by | Oct/10/2013

A common question is: “Does turning off a computer when not in use help with security?”

Turning off a computer inconveniences attackers, but does not stop them.

It is important to remember that attacks can happen in terms of fractions of a second rather than hours. Turning off a computer, in theory, will stop anything bad from happening during that time.

What if one of your users’ computer is used to store illegal data? The attackers can only write or read data when the computer is turned on. If the bad guys are monitoring your keystrokes as you type them, to capture passwords and financial account information as examples, you would already have the computer turned on while you are typing.

Paradoxically, your IT professionals may ask your users to leave their computers turned on all of the time. That may include at night and on weekends. This “user not present” time can be used to perform backups on your computer, install patches and updates, monitor your endpoint protection, make adjustments to your firewall, install new programs, and other tasks that are sometimes better to perform after hours.

If you want your users to turn off their computers at night and on weekends,  then the “computer management” can often take place when the user next turns on their computer – as long as you are willing to accept the possibility of the users experiencing a slowdown, prompts to reboot, or even an infrequent error.

Executives with decision making authority for the company should discuss the pros and cons described here and then make decisions together.

And, just because the question of power saving comes up too: Yes, it will save energy if you turn off the computers at night. Yes, there is a feature that allows IT professionals to remotely turn computers on and off as needed, but that feature can be difficult to implement successfully.

The most important thing: If you choose to leave the computers on, it is important to make sure that all users are “logged out” such that a password is required to use the machine. That way, the cleaning crew or someone else cannot use the computer while the user is away from their desk. It is also a very good idea to configure the machines to automatically enter the locked state after a certain length of time, for example, 10 minutes of no keystrokes or mouse movements.

Do you leave computers on or off at night? Please post your answers below.