It Just Works

As a technical writer, I often say that no one notices when the documentation is good, but everyone notices when it’s bad. The same can be said of data security. As you chug on day after day, uploading files, downloading files, copying files … everything “just works.” You don’t think about all of the things going on behind the scenes: firewalls, virus scanning, virus blocking, alerts about suspect files and suspect connections, servers going down, maintenance updates, security patches, and so on. At least, you hope you don’t have to think about those things. You expect your IT team to be on top of that. Yep, no one notices when all of that “just works,” but when it stops “just working,” EVERYONE notices.

At home, you don’t have an IT team. You need to be smarter to protect your own security. Even if you don’t do banking on your computer and all you do is Facebook and email, you still have to think about security. Most commonly, you’re going to have “harmless” malware that tracks your browsing habits, what you type into forms, and so on for the purpose of marketing. Other bad guys can use this information for identity theft. The worst-case scenario of course is that a sneaky virus will be installed on your computer that turns it into a “brick” that requires your neighbors’ son who lives in their basement to fix it for you. These sorts of viruses probably benefit computer manufacturers the most, because many people will just shove the old, bad computer in a closet and use that as an excuse to buy a new one.

So what can you do? The most important thing you can do is to install the regular Microsoft and Adobe updates/patches, which are often released for the sole purpose of fixing a security problem. And pay attention to manufacturer’s “End of Life” policies, which means after a certain point, they are no longer upgrading or patching that software, making it more attractive to hackers. Install a brand-name antivirus app on your computer and keep it updated. Make all of these updates (Microsoft, antivirus, etc.) automatic and occur during times that you don’t expect to be using your computer, such as while you’re asleep or at work.

If you are really uninformed regarding regular computer maintenance, then there are two things you can do: pay the money to have someone regularly clean up your computer for you, or buy an Apple computer, which is made for people who don’t know and don’t want to know how to maintain a computer properly. Actually, there are even more options these days for those whose only use for the computer is Facebook, email, picture sharing: some tablets, mobile phones, Chromebook, and so on are “locked down” so they are updated automatically.

You’ll still need a mobile antimalware app, though (such as Lookout). And you still need to cleanup temp files. Your computer needs a part of memory (RAM) and maybe hard drive space just to display all the interfaces and to run services in the background. If the hard drive and RAM are clogged with remnants of files that aren’t being used, it’s harder for the computer to run active apps. You can clean it up yourself if you know what to delete (cookies, web history) and what not to (system files). An app the IT guy I know showed me is called CCleaner. They have a free and a paid version that you can use to clean up temp files, cookies, web history, and so on.

Maintaining your computer is like maintaining your house or car. You can keep your computer running well for a long, long time if you regularly clean up your computer, install updates, and install protective apps. If you ignore it until there is a problem, it can be much more expensive.