NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, September 2008
By Jim McKnight, Director,
Los Angeles Computer Society

jim.mcknight(at)lacspc.org (click to email author)

Obtained from APCUG with the author's permission for publication by APCUG member groups.

As you know, there is no such thing as a totally "Stress-Free" PC, but there are many things you can do to reduce the stress and worry of owning one.

As we use our PC's, many of us worry about losing our data files, losing our email, losing our Music, our iTunes, our connectivity to the Internet, losing power in the middle of a critical activity, losing our ability to boot the PC, losing control of our PC to hackers, Spy-ware, etc. Wow, we worry a lot! It's a wonder we dare use our PC's at all.

To help solve and minimize these worries, here is a collection of ideas to help protect your computing environment. These steps are not really that difficult or expensive. In fact, many are free. There is lots of help available to you from User Groups, Friends, Internet Googling, PC Magazines, etc. to implement these suggestions. Details for implementing many of these suggestions are in the various self-help documents on my website at: http://www.jrmcknight.net.

Will it take a lot of time and energy to implement thess ideas? Yes, at first, but once you have these processes in place, the regular time spent is minimal. Will I see a payback? You will only see a tangible payback for your time and energy if you experience some kind of catastrophic situation. Just like house insurance; if everything keeps running smoothly you will never know if it was worth it. You do get the warm fuzzy feeling of being protected, and you will sleep better at night.

Here are the three main areas of action. First: Protect your PC from bad things happening. Second: Prepare your environment so you can recover if bad things do happen. Third: Practice Secure Behaviors.


    1. Buy yourself Hardware Router (Even if you only have one PC)
      a. The Router acts as a hardware Firewall.
      b. Put it between your PC and your Modem.
      c. Be sure to change the Admin Log-in password from the default to something private.
      d. Either disable the Wireless feature and hardwire your connection, or lock-down the Wireless using WPA Encryption and a password.
    2. Make sure the Windows Firewall is active.
    3. Make sure Windows "Automatic Updates" feature is active and all your critical/important Windows updates are installed.
    4. Install and activate an Anti-virus Program. Set it up to scan incoming e-mails.
    5. Install and activate Windows Defender and other free Anti-Spyware programs. Defender will continually scan your PC for harmful activities (Note: Vista comes with Defender built-in).
    6. Firefox (free) browser is generally safer than Internet Explorer.
    7. Install McAfee Site Advisor (free) on each of your Internet Browsers. It helps identify risky sites. (Note: It is not related to McAfee's Anti-virus or security suite.)
    8. Buy yourself a Battery Backup Power Unit (unless you use a Laptop), so if you lose power at a critical time, you can gently close the PC down.
    9. E-mail:
      a. The best single thing you can do to secure your e-mail is to pick a good password. Do not use a single word, but a short phrase, and include some numbers. ie: "happy2cu4now" or "my5kidsrgr8". I avoid passwords that include I, l, 1, 0, o, or O. Too easy to confuse my memory. I prefer to stick with all lower case for ease of entry, but if you like finger exercise, you can include UPPER CASE and special characters to make it even more secure. Be creative: "C@@LDUDE" could work and easy to remember.
      b. Set up your email program to block images, unless OK'd by you.
      c. Using "Plain Text" e-mail is safer than using "HTML" e-mail, but not as pretty.
      d. Note: Your anti-virus program can scan incoming e-mails, but does not fully protect you.
      e. Thunderbird is a more secure e-mail client than Outlook, Outlook express, or Windows Mail.

PREPARE YOUR ENVIRONMENT (so you can recover if bad things do happen.)

    1. RESTORE/INSTALL DVD/CDís: Make sure you have your "Windows Install" or "System Restore" DVD/CD's on hand (or kept safe off-site). You need these in case of a catastrophic failure. If you do not have them, many manufacturers have instructions on how to burn your own Restore DVD/CD. Do it!
    2. BACKUP PLANS: Put multiple Backup processes in place that include:
      a. DATA BACKUPS: Plan regular backups of all your personal data to CD/DVD's (and kept safe off-site).
      b. IMAGE BACKUPS: Plan regular ďImageĒ back-ups of the entire hard-drive, preferably to an external Hard drive. This is a full image of your main Hard-drive that can be used to completely restore the PC back to normal.
      c. TESTING: Test your back-up process to make sure it can restore the system. This is less risky if you do it when you first buy a PC, because you have your system restore DVD's (hopefully) to put things back as they were when you bought it.
      d. ONLINE BACKUPS: If you like, sign up for an on-line automatic backup service like Carbonite, Jungledisk, or Mozy.
      e. RESTORE BOOT DISK: Create a Boot-Disk (using your Backup Program), so if you need to restore from a backed-up image, you are ready to go. This disk should be tested for "bootability" and then kept off- site.
      f. FLASH DRIVES: Warning: Do not trust Flash Drives as your only means of data backup. They are prone to unexpected catastrophic failures. Having 2 or 3 duplicate Flash Drives would possibly be a reasonable alternative to DVD/CDís for your personal Data.
    3. HARD COPY BU: Write down or print out all your critical info, passwords, access info, log-in IDís, etc. and save off-site. Print out a hard copy of all your e-mail contacts and save off-site.
    4. PASSWORD FILE: If you keep a list of Passwords on your computer, make sure the file is hidden and/or protected by encryption. Name your password file something that only has meaning to you. Do not name your file; "passwords.doc". Duhh. Use something off-beat, like Recipes.doc or Flowers.doc. Also, there are "Locker" Programs that are free or cheap that will hide, encrypt, and password protect your personal data files.