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Tips for Safe Computing

Download this as a PDFTips for Safe Computing

There is much that you can do to ensure your computer system remains secure and stable.

Windows Updates:

  1. Click on Start > Programs/ All Programs > Windows Update, or
  2. Make sure all crucial/high priority updates are installed. If not, install them!
  3. Upgrade to Microsoft Update to include updates for other Microsoft products (e.g., Office).
  4. Select Custom to view other optional upgrades.
  5. Ensure Automatic Updates are on to automatically have your system updated.
  6. But make sure your have a firewall (see below)
  7. But if you aren't confident of recovering your PC if the update makes critical software unstable - turn Automatic Updates off and have us do them for you on a contracted basis.

Spyware/Adware:

Spyware is software that installs with otherwise free software and reports your internet activity (or other computer information or behaviour) to other sites for sale to advertisers or spammers. Additionally, it uses your memory, hard drive space and internet connection to achieve this! Spyware commonly renders browsers almost useless and crashes computers. Adware displays advertisements during the use of otherwise free software. It is usually benign, if annoying, but is sometimes spyware as well. Use an Adware/Spyware scanner to scan your system for installed spyware and clean it up. Use a resident Adware/Spyware scanner to prevent your system from becoming infected.

Remove Unwanted Applications:

  1. Unused programs clutter up your hard disk and may run background programs that use resources. Regularly check for and remove unwanted applications:
    1. Go to Start > Programs/All Programs; navigate through the Start Menu and check for each unwanted program. If an Uninstall option exists; if so, use it.
    2. Go to Start > Control Panel > Add or Remove Programs. Scroll through the list to find unwanted programs. Select it and click the remove button. This will uninstall the selected application.
    3. If you are not sure what it is, leave it, but tell us about it when we are next on site.
  2. You cannot uninstall an application by just deleting files or the menu items.

Keep Your Hard Disk Tidy:

Every couple of months, you should tidy up your hard disk:

  1. Go to Start > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Cleanup. Select the drive you want to clean.
  2. The utility will inspect the disk's contents; when it has finished, select the items that you no longer want. You should probably remove at least 'Temporary Internet Files', 'Recycle Bin' and 'Temporary Files'.
  3. Go to Start > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Defragmenter. Select the drive you want to clean. Click Analyze.
  4. Follow the recommendations of the analysis.
  5. If this doesn't restore you enough disk space, run a disk space utility to determine what is taking your disk space, or ask us to make sufficient space available.

Virus Scanners:

  1. Viruses, worms, etc., can render your computer useless and corrupt your files.
  2. Use a virus scanner to check your system regularly (at least weekly), and allow it to run scans as scheduled, and to keep updated. Some also allow email filtering, and scan files when they are opened.
  3. To prevent being infected by email viruses
    1. Consider using alternatives to Outlook or Outlook Express - not because they are bad, but because they are the target for almost all email viruses. Use an alternative email client.
    2. Don't open any attachment from someone you don't know.
    3. Don't open an attachment even from someone you know if you're not expecting it, especially if it has a name that doesn't look right, or if it is a file with an .EXE, .COM, .PIF, .SCR extension (and be suspicious of files with DOC or .XLS extensions) - check with the sender first.
  4. To prevent being infected by viruses embedded in websites, avoid using Internet Explorer, for the same reasons as above. Use an alternative browser.
  5. If a web-page opens a window asking you to download a file you didn't ask to download - don't.
  6. If your ISP has a virus filtering facility, sign up for it.

Basic Downloading Rules:

  1. Be very, very suspicious of any unsolicited invitation to download something wonderful. These offers often appear as a flashy ad or popup window. The may come as email, often with an attachment.
  2. Before you try some tempting program or toolbar, go to Google and enter the search as follows:  [program-name} spyware OR virus OR malware OR malicious OR worm. Review the search results to draw a conclusion about the program.
  3. Before installing, check the downloaded file with a virus scanner and a spyware scanner.
  4. Use a trusted source for the software. The list below includes some of the major ones. Many offer descriptions, and sometimes ratings of the software (often written by the supplier however). It's a good idea to check two or three of them to compare notes.
    1. Tucows
    2. Jumbo!
    3. NoNags
    4. FreeWareHome
    5. Rocket Download
    6. CNET
    7. ZDNet
    8. Downloads
    9. Download.com

Alternate Applications

Most vulnerabilities in personal computers - and corporate networks - result from the fact that key applications are so widely used as to be ubiquitous. Microsoft Windows has over 95% of the Operating System market; Internet Explorer around 60% of the browser market; Outlook or Outlook Express have a similar share of the email client market, and Microsoft Office over 90% of the productivity suite market. That all these are Microsoft products is largely an accident of history and a result of Microsoft's marketing strategies, and that they are all excellent products is self-evident. That their ubiquity makes them a target for writers of malicious software (viruses, trojans, worms, etc) and for other forms of attack is also self-evident. One of the simplest strategies to protect your computer is to use alternative software. Linux is still too "geeky" for most desktop applications, and the MacOS, whilst excellent, requires Mac hardware. But there are excellent and viable alternatives for browsers, email clients, and productivity suites - some of them are even free.

Remove Unwanted Startup Items:

Many applications install utilities that start with the computer, and many of these will not be things you need to be running. These programs slow booting, use system resources that will slow the computer, and may conflict with other software causing instability. Do the following:

  1. Identify  each item (they usually have icons in the system tray). Identify those you want to retain (e.g., anti-virus and firewall software).
  2. Try clicking or right-clicking on the icon for other items and find a properties or configuration option. Look for a ticked checkbox that says something like (Start automatically with Windows). Untick and it should not restart.
  3. Go to Start Menu > Programs > Startup. Right click on items you do not need, and select  "Delete".
  4. So to Start Menu > Run > Type "msconfig" and hit Enter. Click the Startup tab and uncheck any items you can positively identify that don't need to run when your computer starts up, and hit OK. For a more complete analysis, contact us.
  5. If you are not sure what it is, leave it.

Firewalls:

Firewalls control access between computers. Usually, they prevent external users from gaining unauthorised access to your computer. The standard Windows XP firewall (available from SP2 onwards) is fine, but as with email clients and web browsers, Microsoft products, because they are everywhere, are the target of choice for attack. Hardware firewalls are best, and third party firewalls are good as well.

Power Cycling (Rebooting):

  1. When something on your computer that was working, stops working, and freezes or starts popping up error messages, close it down and restart it.
  2. If you are unable to close it down, hit Ctrl + Alt + Del and choose Task Manager. Open the Applications tab, find and select the problem application, and click End Task. Close Task Manager and restart the program.
  3. If this doesn't work, reboot your computer.
  4. If you have a broadband connection, and can't connect to the Internet, power cycle the router and/or modem (this is a cool term for turning it off, wait, then turn it on).
  5. If you're printer or scanner stops working for no apparent reason, power cycle it.

Cleaning Your Computer:

You should check the inside of your computer case every 12 months. If it's on the floor, put it on a desk - the floor is where the dirt lives.

  1. Remove the case cover (usually one side will be sufficient).
  2. Restart the computer with the cover off briefly to check for noisy components (especially disks or fans). Have us replace them if necessary.
  3. When the computer is off, check for dust build-up, especially around fans, air inlets, and heat sinks. If this is excessive:
    1. Unplug your system from power and other connections.
    2. Start from the top and remove the dust with a small paintbrush and work your way down to the bottom of the case.
    3. Brush all the dust into a pile and use a piece of paper as a dust pan and remove the dust.
    4. Use a (very) slightly damp cloth and clean the dust on the bottom of the case.
    5. To clean around fans and heat sinks, do not clean by blowing: you may end up with dust in areas that were previously clean. Use a mini-vacuum cleaner with a small nozzle, or a can of compressed air. Do not use a workshop compressed-air hose - it is probably full of oil and water.
    6. If the CPU heat sink is very dusty, it may be necessary to remove it.
  4. If you are not comfortable with any of this, have us do it.

Preventing Spam:

Spam is unauthorised bulk email. To cut down on spam:

  1. Don't select an email username that is a word in the dictionary, a common name (e.g., john@yoursite.com), or has less than 5-6 characters. Spam programs will try most common or short usernames at almost every domain. Instead, use alternatives such as johns; jsmith, johnsmith, or john.smith.
  2. Quality webmail providers, such as gmail, provide high-quality spam filtering.
  3. If your ISP has a spam filtering facility, sign up for it.
  4. Don't post your email address online, as some spambots search web pages for email addresses. If you must, then place it as an image (e.g., Email Image); it is better to incorporate it as part of a email form script.
  5. Never respond to spam. Any response is guaranteed to add your email address to a list which means more spam.
  6. Use an email program that includes a spam filter, or get a third-party spam filter for your email program.
  7. Don't forward emails about new viruses, sick people, etc, without checking! Find a unique phrase in the email, copy and paste it into Google, surrounded by quotation marks. If this returns results from Trendmicro, MacAfee, Symantec, Scambusters, BreaktheChain or Hoaxbusters, it is probably a fraud!

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