Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Don't Buy A New Computer

Instead, protect the one you have.

Last year on this day, I was going from one store to another comparing my options for a new laptop. I also bought a three year warranty and avoided nine out of the ten tips listed below by Bob Rankin:

Ten Stupid Things You Can Do To Mess Up Your Computer

Okay, I'm using a little reverse psychology on you... If want to keep your computer running smoothly and avoid becoming a target for cyber criminals, here are ten things you should NOT do.

  1. Failing to Apply Security Patches - New computer security threats crop up almost daily, as hackers, crackers and other cyber villians attempt to find and exploit holes in the operating system and application software we use every day. Unpatched vulnerabilities can lead to virus infestations, enslavement in a botnet, or even identity theft. And no software is immune, whether you run Windows, Mac or Linux. You need to configure your system to automatically download and install security patches for your operating system, office software, web browser, Java, email program, PDF reader, media player and other software you use. How do you do that?

    windows update Take advantage of the tools built into your operating system -- Windows Update, Mac OS X Software Update, or Ubuntu Update Manager -- and make sure they're set to run on auto-pilot every day. Other software that you've installed may offer the same type of automatic updating capability. Don't ignore the warning messages from the updaters, and apply fixes as soon as they are available.

  2. Not Using Anti-Virus/Anti-Spyware Protection - This is perhaps the most common way to make a system inoperable, and the easiest problem to avoid. Not using anti-malware program is akin to leaving the front door of your house wide open with all of your valuables on prominent display. Having an unprotected system is an invitation to allow all kinds of nasty things like spyware, trojan horses, viruses and root kits to access your system. Virus and spyware creators do this in the hope of gaining control of computers for nefarious purposes, or getting access to sensitive information that may be stored on a hard drive. And of course, viruses and spyware can significantly slow down a machine. Be safe, use a good anti-virus, and anti-spyware program to keep out the bad stuff. See my recommendations for Malware Scanners and Free Anti-Virus Software.
  3. Not Using a Firewall - Yes, your computer needs a firewall. But probably not the kind everyone is telling you to install. Chances are, you already have an excellent firewall built in to your high-speed modem/router. Find out more about the two kinds of firewalls, and which one you need in my Do I Need a Firewall? article.
  4. annoying popups Clicking on Bogus Popups - Popup ads are intrusive, annoying and seemingly everywhere on the Web. Yet, it is amazing how often some computer users will mindlessly click on them. Popups will promise you anything from a free dinner for two to ridding your machine of viruses with one click. These ads can mask spyware and malware that gets loaded onto your machine behind-the-scenes. Also, a lot of them are just annoying links to endlessly long surveys that offer a free laptop or iPod, with the catch being that you have to sign up for a lot of paid services that you probably really don't need. One telecom provider recently got a flood of angry calls from users who unwittingly clicked a popup that subtly had them signing up for a web hosting service without the users even realizing it! The use of a good anti-malware program plus using the popup blocker that comes with a lot of browsers, can help keep the popup ads at bay. If you see a popup ad in a browser window, close the window by clicking the red button at the top. Don't click inside the popup window, or you could unwittingly download harmful software.
  5. computer virus Unsafe Downloading - It can be tempting to download pirated versions of games, movies or popular software packages. But beware the warez... tools like Limewire, Bittorrent, and rogue download sites are chock full of nasty surprises. Some downloads have been modified to contain embedded viruses or trojan horses that can compromise your system. Stick with safe download sites such as Download.com and Tucows, where you can find tons free software and shareware that's certified malware-free.
  6. Falling for Phishing Scams - The Nigerian email scam has become as well-known a confidence game as the old shell-game. But it still is astonishing how many will fall for it. The news reported recently about a woman who lost almost half a million dollars to email scammers. Also, be on the lookout for those very official looking phishing attempts. An email may come to your inbox that looks like it's from your bank, Ebay or Paypal. You open it up and it is asking you to verify your information by entering your password, social security or account number. And it's scary how precisely the emails (and the sites they link to) match the real ones. Bottom line: no one has any business asking for your private information via email. If you have any questions about a suspicious email that looks like it came from a place you do business with, call that company to verify, and always use a bookmark or manually key the address of sites that require a login. Read more about phishing scams to protect yourself from these online scams.
  7. wifi hackers Not Securing Your WiFi - Ever notice your Internet connection slowing down? This could be the result of strangers mooching off your wifi bandwidth. If you leave your wireless router wide open and unsecured, it's an open invitation for neighbors and passers-by to connect. But in addition to sharing your internet connection, you're also exposing yourself to hackers and possibly even legal liability. Best practice is to enable WEP or WPA encryption on your router and to set a strong password as the key. Many users neglect to change the default username and password of their home routers, information which can easily be found online. Why take a chance? Read my article Wireless Security for help getting your router secured.
  8. Haphazard Deleting - It's not so hard to fill up a hard drive these days, even with the large storage capacity that comes with machines. But when you feel like doing some housekeeping on your system, make sure you know what you are deleting. The deletion of DLL files and other files residing in system folders or program folders can cause your operating system or applications to crash. Usually, Windows will not let you delete critical system files, but play it safe: if you are not sure what you are deleting, leave it alone and do some research on it first. When it come to housekeeping, better options for freeing up drive space are removing unneccesary software with Add/Remove Programs, or running the Disk Cleanup utility. For heavy duty disk scrubbing, read my tips for a Clean Hard Drive.
  9. backup hard drive Forgetting to Back Up - This is a heart-breaker because it so easy to avoid. Sooner or later, you WILL accidentally delete an important file, or experience a hard drive failure. Always make sure that you back up any critical files, and on a regular basis. Backing up is so easy now with external drives and online backup services. No messy tapes or piles or floppy disks... Shame on you once if you lose a file, shame on you twice if you didn't remember to back it up. See my related piece on Automatic Backups and Online Backup Services.
  10. Setting up a BIOS password - This idea is well intentioned yet can cause you trouble. You want to be as safe as can be, so you lock your computer with a BIOS password. It cannot even go through boot up without input of that password. If you set a BIOS password, make sure you never ever forget. Some motherboards will allow you to reset the BIOS, but others cannot be done without the assistance of potentially costly expert help. If you want to be secure, a better option is a fingerprint reader. Plus, there's no password to remember.

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