Computers have changed a lot in the 20+ years that I’ve worked in the technology field. What you knew (or thought you knew) a few years ago might not be true anymore.
The upgrades and software that really matter now have changed a bit. You don’t need to buy productivity software like Microsoft Office for home use. You can use the free Google Docs, Google’s low-cost G-Suite, or Microsoft’s online products (both free and paid versions are available).
Technology criminals, including hackers and scammers, used to break into computers and company networks using stealth, skill, and unpatched security holes. There’s not as much need for old-style computer and network break-ins now that crooks can use spam emails instead, although they still exploit security holes, just in a different way.
They might also take advantage of home and business networks that use poor security practices such as default passwords. Some home tech devices have big security flaws that hackers exploited in 2016 via links in spam emails.
Here are 5 things today’s computer users really need to get in the habit of doing.
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Many of the major security breaches you read about in the news end up being traced to someone clicking on a malevolent link. This includes email hacks, stolen credit card numbers, and leaked password lists.
Malware refers to all sorts of unwanted software, including viruses, Trojans, spyware, and ransomware. You are the most important protection against malware.
Resist the urge to click on links indiscriminately. Don’t mindlessly click links in emails or open file attachments just because you recognize the sender of the email or because they look like they could be legit. Watch out for other types of scam emails such as fake invoices and shipping notices.
If you see a popup message insisting that your computer is infected with scads of viruses and you need to call a number or click on the message to fix things, don’t do it. Immediately shut down your computer by holding in the power button for 10 seconds, wait a minute, then turn it back on.
Do not click on the popup message at all. Clicking anywhere on the message, even the X, won’t get rid of it, but clicking anywhere on it might install malware. These messages come from ad networks used by a variety of different websites, including some very popular ones.
Some popups claim to distribute updates to your internet browser. None of are legit. Chrome and Firefox update themselves, and Internet Explorer updates automatically through Windows Update. You should never see a genuine update message from any of these browsers other than Firefox asking you to restart it after an update.
Backup Your Computer
If your hard drive crashes or you fall victim to a ransomware attack (most likely from clicking on a link that you shouldn’t have clicked), you will need a recent backup of your computer to make things right again.
Windows comes with its own Windows Backup and Restore utility. Type Backup and Restore into the search box or Cortana to locate it.
Use Windows Backup and Restore to create a rescue disc with a blank DVD. Then, use it to set up a regular backup – at least weekly – including a system image. You can let Windows choose what to backup. You can pick up an external USB hard drive for less than $50 to use for backups.
Some things never seem to change.
Computers still need a good restart once in a while. Most people can get away with restarting their computers once a week. By restart, I mean completely restart, not just logoff. You don’t need to power down, but will have to select the Restart option.
Restarting wipes the slate clean from a computer perspective. It’s a bit like cleaning a well-used dry erase board with a wet cloth instead of just wiping it with an eraser.
Lock Your Workstation
If you work in an office with other people, consider locking your workstation when you leave your desk. That keeps others from being able to walk up to your computer and access your files.
You can easily lock your Windows computer by holding down the Windows key with the letter L.
When you return to your computer, you’ll need to enter your password again. All of the programs you had open will still be there. It’s not at all like logging in from scratch. You’ll go right back to where ever you were when you left your desk.
Know What Matters
A common myth about Windows computers is that having too many programs installed will slow down your computer. That’s only true for programs that run in the background, and modern computers can take quite a few before you’ll notice a performance hit. Computer geeks like me have dozens of extra programs installed, but we minimize the ones that are allowed to keep running in the background.
Having a lot of programs open at the same time can affect performance. You might have your internet browser, email, several documents, and a few large spreadsheets open, all at once. Upgrading your computer’s RAM (memory) is a cheap and easy way to kick things up a notch if having a lot of programs open at the same time makes your computer crawl.
If you have a laptop, consider buying an SSD hard drive. Many laptops bought in the past couple of years already have SSD (solid state drive) hard drives. However, since they’re more expensive than standard hard disk drives, plenty of laptops still don’t have them.
If you’re not comfortable replacing your own hard drive, it’s worth making sure your next laptop has an SSD. The increase in speed is absolutely amazing.
Should you buy fancy, expensive antivirus software for your computer? If you do, you’re probably wasting your money and slowing down your computer.
Windows 10 comes with built-in anti-malware software. Microsoft offers free anti-malware software for Windows 7 that you can download – Microsoft Security Essentials.
Paid anti-malware software is recommended in a business environment, but at home, it’s probably more trouble than it’s worth. I’ll say this again because it’s so critical to remember – you are the most important protection against viruses and other malware.
Stay alert and be careful. Don’t click on email links or open file attachments unless you are expecting them and you’re absolutely sure they’re legit. Don’t click on annoying popup messages that claim your computer has hundreds of viruses or you need to install some sort of browser update.
How About You?
What do you need to know about your computer? Have you developed the above habits?