Top 10 Things To Avoid When Using Your Computer

Top Ten Things To Avoid When Using Your ComputerAll this years as an I.T. consultant serving over hundreds of users, I can almost say that I’ve seen it all. There are many users with many different rituals and habits when comes to using their computers, and I’ll probably write another article for it in the near future. In the mean time, what prompted me to write this article is the fact that I just came back from a customer whose computer was infected with near to a hundred different viruses and thousands of spywares, just on ONE computer !!!

His computer was basically crawling and hardly even got a chance to do a proper boot-up. Ten minutes after turning on the computer, the Windows logo finally appeared (never thought I’ll miss seeing it…), and before the logon screen appear, lots of windows start popping up. Missing file this, error message that, buy this, “your system is infected with …” that and WOW !! It just keeps popping up like fireworks!!!

There is no way for me to work on this system, and the only way for me to revive it is to totally reformat the whole system and start fresh again (if life can be so easy too…sigh….), but the user claims that he has got lots of very important data and they cannot be gone. Well of course, that’s what our job is all about.

I then proceed to remove his hard disk from the system and install it into another computer, making sure that the second computer has already installed with AVG antivirus and that it is updated to the latest definition file. The rest…. is just basic file copy, … virus alert, … heal, … continue, … virus alert, heal… and well, just too much of a nightmare to continue. I’m just sitting there clicking on the above messages like a mindless cuckoo and wishing there’s a much better way to end a day than this.

… begins to realize what kind of crap he’s putting into his system and how his life’s work can just go into the abyss of 0s and 1s …

Well, not too bad though, as during this time, my customer begins to realize what kind of crap he’s putting into his system and how his life’s work can just go into the abyss of 0s and 1s.

We begin to talk and this time (out of the many times I’ve talked to him), he’s serious. He asked me lots of questions and even took out his trusted organizer and begin to take down notes about how to prevent these incidents from happening again, and we even talk further and discuss about things to avoid when using computers. In fact, the list was pretty long, and I’m very surprised of his change of attitude towards learning to protect his system, and at the end of everything, at around 11:40pm (I started working on his system since 10am), he voluntary made a copy of his notes and gave it to me and asked me to always share these with my other customers, together with a S$500 cheque to buy whatever that’s necessary for him!! And that’s on top of my bill :)

Anyway, long story short, I’ve narrowed down the list and these will be the top 10 things to avoid when using your computer:-

  1. Using a computer without a UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply)
    • Protecting a computer is not just getting an antivirus program to protect your operating system and your software, you need to protect the hardware too.
    • Power outrages such as trips and brownouts are very common destructive forces and they can be easily avoided by getting a UPS. You may think that your systems are in danger only during an electrical storm, but anything that interrupts the electrical circuit and then starts the current back again can fry your components. Something as simple as someone turning on an appliance that’s plugged into the same circuit (especially a high voltage one such as a hair dryer, electric heater, or air conditioner) can cause a surge, or a surge may be caused by a tree limb touching a power line. If you have a power outage, you may experience a surge when the electricity comes back on.
    • An Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) has a battery that keeps power flowing smoothly even when there’s an outage, giving you time to gracefully shut down your system without corrupting your operating system and software.
  2. Using your computer without a firewall or at least an antivirus software
    • “This computer don’t use the Internet, so it’s alright…” , “I only use the Internet to access my trusted bank site, after that I don’t surf the web…”, “The ISP says the router has built-in firewall, so I don’t need…”
    • If all the above sounds too familiar to you, imagine how many times I’ve heard it! In the older times, having an antivirus software to protect your system is considered sufficient, you are as well-protected as the brand of the antivirus software you use, but now, it is just not enough. Antivirus don’t protect your system against intrusion, hackings, worms and spywares (sometimes they do but in a very limited capacity).
    • If you don’t have any antivirus or firewall protection on your system, do keep my contact and call me when you need me to camp at your place too :)
  3. Not updating your antivirus/firewall/antispyware definition files
    • For the above programs to protect your system, the software must learn about the latest virus patterns and/or intrusion signatures before they can flag it to be a malware or viruses. If you did not update your definition file, you may be able to catch those older and outdated viruses, but you are no match for the latest one.
    • The good thing is that all of these software will auto-update themselves and even if they don’t, all you need to do is to click the Update button and the software will usually update themselves.
  4. Installing lots of programs, including beta version software
    • The more programs you install, the more likely you are to run across ones that either include malicious code or that are poorly written and cause your system to behave improperly or crash. The risk is greater with pirated programs.
    • Even if you install only licensed, final-release commercial software, too many installations and uninstallations can gunk up the registry. Not all uninstall routines completely remove program remnants and at the least, this practice can cause your system to slow down over time.
    • You should install only the programs that you really need, stick with legitimate software, and try to minimize the number you install and uninstall.
  5. Having full and fragmented hard disk
    • One of the results of installing and uninstalling lots of programs (or adding and deleting data of any kind) is that it fragments your disk. Disk fragmentation occurs because of the way information is stored on the disk: On a new, clean disk, when you save a file it’s stored in contiguous sections called clusters. If you delete a file that takes up, for example, five clusters, and then save a new file that takes eight clusters, the first five clusters’ worth of data will be saved in the empty space left by the deletion and the remaining three will be saved in the next empty spaces. That makes the file fragmented, or divided. To access that file, then, the disk’s read heads won’t find all the parts of the file together but must go to different locations on the disk to retrieve it all. That makes it slower to access. If the file is part of a program, the program will run more slowly. A badly fragmented disk will slow down to a crawl. You can use the disk defragmenter built into Windows (Programs | Accessories | System Tools) or a third-party defrag program to rearrange these pieces of files so that they’re placed contiguously on the disk.
    • Another common cause of performance problems and application misbehavior is a disk that’s too full. Many programs create temporary files and need extra free space on the disk to operate. You can use Windows XP’s Disk Cleanup Tool or a third-party program to find and delete rarely used files, or you can manually delete files to clear space on your disk.
  6. Opening every email attachments
    • Getting an e-mail message with an attachment is like getting an unexpected gift. You just have to peek inside to see what it is. But just as that package left on your doorstep could contain a bomb, that file attached to your mail message could contain code that will delete your documents or system folder or send viruses to everyone in your address book.
    • The most blatantly dangerous attachments are executable files–those that run code–with extensions like .exe, .cmd, and many others (see http://antivirus.about.com/od/securitytips/a/fileextview.htm for a list of file extensions for different types of executables). Files that aren’t themselves executables, such as Word .doc files and Excel .xls files, can contain embedded macros. Scripts (Visual Basic, JavaScript, Flash, etc.) aren’t directly executed by the computer but are run by other programs.
    • It used to be that you could assume plain text (.txt) or graphics (.gif, .jpg, .bmp) files were safe, but not anymore. File extensions can be “spoofed”; attackers take advantage of the Windows default setting that doesn’t display common file extensions to name executables something like greatfile.jpg.exe. With the real extension hidden, it shows up as greatfile.jpg. So the recipient thinks it’s a graphic, but it’s actually a malicious program.
  7. Clicking on everything
    • Opening attachments isn’t the only type of mouse click that can get you in trouble. Clicking on hyperlinks in e-mail messages or on Web pages can take you to Web sites that have embedded ActiveX controls or scripts that can perform all sorts of malicious activities, from wiping your hard disk to installing a backdoor program on your computer that a hacker can use to get in and take control of it.
    • Clicking the wrong link can also take you to inappropriate Web sites that feature pornography, pirated music or software, or other content that can get you in trouble if you’re using a computer on the job or even get you in trouble with the law.
  8. Unnecessary sharing of system resources
    • When you’re on a network, sharing can expose you to dangers. If you have file and printer sharing enabled, others can remotely connect to your computer and access your data. Even if you haven’t created any shared folders, by default Windows systems have hidden “administrative” shares for the root of each drive. A savvy hacker may be able to use these shares to get in. One way to prevent that is to turn off file and printer sharing–if you don’t need to make any of the files on your computer accessible across the network. This is especially a good idea if you’re connecting your laptop to a public wireless hotspot.
    • If you do need to make shared folders accessible, it’s important that they be protected by both share-level permissions and file-level (NTFS) permissions. Also ensure that your account and the local administrative account have strong passwords.
  9. Using a weak password
    • Don’t pick passwords that are easy to guess, such as your birthdate, loved one’s name, social security number, etc. Longer passwords are harder to crack, so make your password at least eight characters long; 14 is even better. Popular password-cracking methods use “dictionary” attacks, so don’t use words that are in the dictionary. Passwords should contain a combination of alpha, numeric, and symbol characters for best security.
    • A long string of nonsense characters may create a password that’s tough to crack, but if you can’t remember it, you’ll defeat the purpose by writing it down (where an intruder may be able to find it). Instead, create a phrase you can remember easily and use the first letters of each word, along with logical numbers and symbols. For example: “My dog ate a mouse on the 5th day of June” becomes “Md8amot5doJ.”
    • Many times when I go to a customer’s site, I’m able to just log into the system without asking anybody for password. The users will just stare at me with their big round eyes and ask me how I do it, and I just simply point at a sticky note pasted below their monitor or pinned to their partition wall and tell them that is how I know. So please, imagine if somebody wanted to sabotage you in any sense, accessing your system with your password is the best way to hack.
  10. Not backing up your data
    • An attacker may crash your system or your data may be corrupted or get wiped out by a hardware problem. That’s why it’s essential that you always back up your important information and have a plan for recovering from a system failure.
    • Most computer users know they should back up, but many never get around to it. Or they make an initial backup but don’t update it regularly. Use the built-in Windows backup program (Ntbackup.exe in Windows NT, 2000, and XP) or a third-party backup program and schedule backups to occur automatically. Store backed up data on a network server or removable drive in a location away from the computer itself, in case of a natural disaster like flood, fire, or tornado.
    • Remember that the data is the most important thing on your computer. The operating system can be reinstalled and so can applications, but it may be difficult or impossible to recreate your original data. Don’t wait for disaster to happen, take the first step, backup your data!

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