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All posts for the month October, 2014

Online privacy – or the apparently staggering lack thereof – has been a hot topic for years. It seems every day there’s another story about how much personal information is stolen or compiled or misused in some manner.

You can pretty easily control how much of your personal information is available to be misused by simply controlling what you make available.

If you’re worried about people accessing your naughty pictures, either don’t upload them to photo storage systems or don’t take them in the first place.

If you’re worried about people getting access to your banking information or credit card numbers, be vigilant about what sites you give that information. Many banks and credit companies now offer very restrictive online only credit cards that can limit the amount of damage a leaked credit card cumber can do.

If you’re just worried in general about unauthorized people spying on you online, be careful about using unsecured WiFi connections, use secure access as much as possible and make sure you use good, robust passwords. Be cautious about what you upload or post. In the old days, I used to tell clients that anything the put anywhere online was essentially posted in the most public possible place and accessible by anyone, anytime, forever. If you’ve got information that you REALLY don’t want anyone to know, don’t count on any online service keeping it totally secure. Leaks happen.

The bottom line is that your privacy online is much like it is in the real world – as good as your habits.

Disk CrashThere are two kinds of people – people who have lost everything when their hard drive failed and people who are going to lose everything when their hard drive fails.

When your hard drive dies, you don’t need to lose all of your stuff. If you’ve got a good, up-to-date back-up, you can be up and running on new or repaired equipment very quickly. If you don’t have a back-up, you will need to reconstruct and re-enter everything.

Sadly, making sure you’ve backed up your all of your stuff can be tricky, since many programs store your data in unexpected places and you may store your data in odd places, too.

In general, most people tend to file their work in the “Documents” folder of their home folder, or on their desktop. Backing those files up is pretty easy, as you just need to pop in a flash drive and drag the files onto it. Get in the habit of doing that once a day or once a week and you’re good to go. Stuff that doesn’t change as often doesn’t need to be backed up as often.

When it comes to data like accounting, address book and calendar information, things are a bit more complex. Most of those programs store their data outside of the “Documents” folder, often in hidden locations or buried inside preference folders. With programs like that, look for an “Export…” option in the menus and use that command to export the program data to a location you can easily access, then back up that exported data. Often, you can simply “Import..” that same data if the need arises.

There are built in backup systems available on all major operating systems. Check out the one on your computer. Set it up and use it! Put it on an automated schedule! Don’t lose your stuff!

Virus

The short answer: the one you have and use regularly is the best one.

The long answer…

There are pluses and minuses to all of them. The most important factor to remember is that anti-virus software is only effective if you use it regularly. If you’re constantly bypassing it and haven’t set up regular scans, nothing is going to help protect your machine.

Personally, I really like ClamAV. It’s a open source project, meaning it’s built by people who are personally interested in it, the source code is available for anyone to look at and it’s free. It comes in a number of flavors to match your operating system (such as ClamWin for Windows and ClamXav for Macs.) It’s easy to set up, unobtrusive and highly configurable.

There are dozens of options out there, just pick one and use it!

I know. It’s infuriating. Every site wants a log-in and a password.

It’s tempting to use one username and one password for every site, but that’s a disaster waiting to happen. If you go that route, what happens when your username and password for one site gets leaked? Yup…. if you’ve used the same log-in credentials for everything, somebody who has access to one thing has access to everything.

Here’s a way around it – use a consistent pattern for your passwords rather than a consistent password. Make it something you can remember but tough for someone else to guess. Make it something with letters, numbers and punctuation so it’s likely to meet most sites password requirements. Make it something that changes for each site you need to log in to.

For example – start with something random and memorable like ‘Tiger!123’ and add the name of the site. That would mean your Google password might be ‘Tiger!123Google’ and your Apple password would be ‘Tiger!123Apple’.

See how that works? You get something you can remember but anybody else would have a hard time guessing, and it’s different for every site, so compromising one doesn’t compromise all of them.

TrafficjamdelhiWe’ve all seen it – our computer starts pausing. It’s infuriating. It’s not really crashed, but it goes in jerky steps. Maybe the screen gets clunky or falls behind in our typing. There are long delays before anything happens.

Usually, this means the machine is overworked. Your computer hardly ever works on just one thing at a time. The program you are using in the foreground is the tip of an iceberg and there are dozens of tasks going on behind the screen. There are always programs running in the background on your computer, using the spare microseconds between your keystrokes to do whatever they do. When you have too many of those background tasks, or when they are taking more than their fair share of processor time, your computer slows down as the computer struggles to keep up with you.

To fight this, try to minimize the numbers of background processes your computer tries to run. On Windows, the Task Manager shows you what’s running and how much of the processor time is being spent on each one. On Macs, the Activity Monitor does the same thing and on Linux it’s usually the System Monitor. Use your computers monitor tool to see what’s slowing you down.

Look for processes other than the one you’re actively using that use large amounts of system resources. Think about whether those processes are essential to what you do. It’s usually unsafe to quit those processes directly, but make a note of them and use the startup manager to turn them off on the next reboot. If you find you’re still productive without that background process, try disabling it permanently or removing it.

Sometimes it feels like the internet is filled with nothing but cats and con artists. Whether you like cats or not is up to you, but nobody likes con artists.

One of the most common scams involves a con artist claiming to be from ‘Microsoft Support’ calling an unsuspecting victim and claiming that person’s computer has been infected with some kind of virus or malware. They clam that if the victim gives them a credit card number, they can fix the ‘problem.’ If the victim gives them the number, the scammer then directs the victim to download and install a ‘fix.’ Of course, the ‘fix’ is actually some kind of malware, typically opening up the victim’s computer to further mischief while the scammer happily uses the ill-gotten credit card number.

Protecting against this scam is easy – BE SKEPTICAL!

Ask yourself “Does it make sense that Microsoft, a massive company with software used by billions of computers all over the world, would be calling me? Would they really employ someone to call up any one of their customers with troubleshooting advice? Have they ever called me before? Is is sensible to think they can identify who is running my computer and can find a way to call me?”

The answer to all of the above is “No.” None of it makes sense.

Ask yourself those questions and then ask them to any caller who says they’ve found a problem with your computer.

Be skeptical! Be curious! Ask the questions and demand clear, sensible answers.

One of my favourite tools for keeping Windows running fast and smooth is CCleaner from Piriform. It’s a quick, reliable way to steam clean your hard drive and the Windows registry. Over time, both fill up with outdated, corrupt or redundant files and entries. CCleaner scans both and removes all of the stuff that’s slowing things down and wasting space.

The free version is so great, I recommend buying the full version just to keep Piriform in business, doing what they do.