Tuesday, April 3, 2012

COMPUTER BACKUPS: SHOULD I BACKUP “MY STUFF”?

All that “Stuff” that accumulates on your computer’s hard drive: documents, pictures, music, videos and other digital information. You’re thinking, “Should I make a backup?”  If your computer stopped working right now (poof!) would you miss any of the information you have saved on your computer’s hard drive?  If you’re reading this, I’m guessing your answer is yes.  If you have had the misfortune of experiencing a total hard drive failure, you already know what a disaster it can be to lose everything on your computer’s hard drive.  In addition to the computer files, all the time lost organizing all that stuff.  What you need is a plan to protect your digital stock pile of information.  There are a few things you need to consider in order to protect your computer files.

Basically, you need to answer three simple questions: when, what, and where?

When should I backup my stuff?

You will need to set a schedule for regular backups.  Computer information is best measured as time, a “snap shot” of things past: precious memories, work performed, educational materials, or other data collected.  How much time are you willing to lose?  How should you measure this time?  Obviously, these questions have different meaning for everyone.  If you just spent all night working on a big project you may measure your computer’s information in hours or minutes.  If you’re archiving family pictures on your computer’s hard drive, you may choose to measure in months or weeks.  Some companies measure in fractions of a second and backup their data instantly with a technology called mirroring, where all information is simultaneously written on two physical locations, creating an instant backup.  So, how do you measure your computer’s hard drive in time?  What on your hard drive cannot be replaced?  How often does this “stuff” change?  How much “time” do you have invested since your last backup and what are you willing to lose?  Answering these questions will help you determine how often you should backup your stuff.  Backups are like an insurance policy; no policy is perfect, but an affective plan must include a set schedule.  For most, performing a backup once a month will be sufficient for a “personal use” computer.  If you are working on a big project it is a good idea to keep a second copy “just in case”.

What should I backup?

This question is more often about rationing the storage space you have available to store backup files.  My advice, backup everything!  True, you can always recover your operating system and application software by installing everything again.  However, this is going to take time and what about all of those security updates?  If you do backup the entire system, often referred to as a “System Image”, you can save valuable time restoring your computer’s hard drive in the event of a complete failure.  At the very least, make sure you do backup all of your personal files, “my stuff”.  You may even consider following two backup plans, this will save time when performing your scheduled backups: one plan for backing up the operating system and applications (this will usually take more time but typically require less frequent backups), and the second plan is for “my stuff” (this should be performed more often and will require far less time to complete when compared to backing up everything on the hard drive).  At the very least, you should make regular copies of all your personal files, “my stuff”: documents, pictures, videos, music, and any other data that cannot be replaced easily.

Where should I put my backups? This is actually a three part question:

1)      How much space will I need to backup my computer’s hard drive?

This is often underestimated; a 1:1 ratio is not enough, unless your intention is to only have a single copy.  I suggest, at a minimum, purchase double the storage space you will need to backup everything once, even better, three times as much.  Why? What if the backup is bad?  What if the backup is destroyed or damaged?  What if you overwrite a good backup with a bad backup?  What if your backup media goes bad?  Companies keep shelves of archived backups “just in case”.  I recommend having at least two backup copies and media.  I’m not saying make two backups each time you do your backups.  Rotate two copies and physical media devices (don’t use just one backup drive).  The easiest way to accomplish this is by having two sets of backup media, one for the even months (February, April, June, August, October, December), and one for the odd months (January, March, May, July, September, November).  Yes, you may lose a full month of files if one backup completely fails, but it is better than losing everything.

2)      What kind of media should I use for my backups?

This all depends on how much you plan on backing up.  If you only have a few files, maybe a CDROM is sufficient, or a DVD if a little more space is needed.  I suggest an external USB hard drive.  Not only is this the most economical media for storage space, it provides sufficient space to backup your operating system and applications as well.  If you are backing up several computers, consider an external hard drive with Ethernet support.  This will give you the option of connecting the backup hard drive to your home network; if supported, this will give direct access to all the computers on your network without the need of moving the external drive from computer to computer.

3)      Final question, where to keep the backups?

Once you take the time to make a backup, it is best to keep it in a safe place.  What if you computer is lost in a fire, natural disaster, or stolen?  Most companies keep backups in multiple geographic locations as part of their backup plan.  I’m not suggesting you keep a backup of your computer in another time zone, although you could.  You could just keep your backup(s) in your desk drawer.  It’s just something to consider.  If you have more than one backup, maybe just keep them in different locations inside your home or in a fire proof safe.  When you store your backups keep in mind the sensitivity of some of the information you may have on the backup drive, especially financial and other personal records.

Now you have a few things to consider; it may seem complicated on the surface, but once you break it down its not all that bad.  Once you establish a plan, the most important part is sticking to a set schedule and backing up your stuff.  Hopefully you’ll never need to use your backups, but if your hard drive fails you will be very glad you have them.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

COMPUTER PHONE SCAM

This computer phone scam seems to be on the rise in the United States.  In recent weeks, I have been contacted by several people asking me if this could possibly be a legitimate phone call.  Luckily, none have become a victim of the scammers.

How the scam works:

A computer technician claiming to work for Microsoft or some other large computer company will call you at home.  Claiming your computer has been infected by a nasty virus and he can help you get it off your computer... Just hang up the phone.  Microsoft or any other company will never call you like this... if they did offer a service like this I think you would remember paying for it... It would not be cheap... anyway... the scammers are after your personal information.  If they trick you into running a program on your computer, this is their goal, they will have complete access to all your personal information, including: financial account numbers; passwords; logins; credit card numbers; and anything else they want that you store or access from your computer.

What they want is access to your financial accounts so they can transfer your money into their accounts.  The other information they are collecting could be sold or used at a later date... it could come back to haunt you.

Here is a news report from an Australian news station about the same scam taking place last year:



Bottom line; never trust any unsolicited communication from any source, no matter who they claim to be.

Friday, June 17, 2011

PASSWORD STRENGTH

How strong is your password?  Can someone guess or crack your password?  Bring up the topic of password strength and you might get more information than you had expected.  As I see it, there are two basic things to keep in mind when selecting a strong password.

The first is password length, to avoid a wordy explanation of password length; the following is a table to help paint a picture:

Password Length (characters) Number of options for each character Number of password combinations available
12626
226676
32617,576
426456,976
52611,881,376
626308,915,776

Surprised?  Obviously, the more password combinations that are available, the stronger your password is.

The second is comprised of two parts; character availability and character selection.  To simplify, make use of every character group available to you when selecting a password.  There are four character groups available and they are:

Character groups Number of characters available in the group Examples
lowercase alphabet26a, b, c
uppercase alphabet26A, B, C
numbers100, 1, 2
special characters or symbols(number available will vary)!, @, #

For example:

Password #1: password
Password #2: Pa$$w0rd

The #2 password makes use of characters from each of the four character groups, while the #1 password only uses characters from the lowercase alphabet.  Given the selection of characters used, password #2 is the most secure version of the two examples; however, based on password length, both passwords are of equal strength.
What is a good password length?  Make it as long as is possible… however, remembering a password that is thirty or more characters in length might become a little too painful to type and keep track of over time.  I suggest a password of at least thirteen characters in length to qualify as a “strong password”.
What is more important, length or characters?  That all depends on the password, but if I had to choose one over the other, I would say password length is more important than character selection.  Then again, if you are using dictionary words to construct your password, that’s not a strong password.
To select a good list of characters, which you can remember, try this useful trick; instead of thinking of a password as a word or group of words, think of it as a sentence or phrase, for example:
We had a great time at the beach this summer!
Ok, you’re not going to use the whole sentence, watch this…
Whagtatbts!
See what I did?  I used the first letter of each word in the sentence.  Now add a few numbers someplace in the password and you have:
W5hagtatbts!1
Now that is a “strong password”.  It meets all the criteria mentioned and you can remember it!
Having said all that, your password is only one piece of your overall security.  When it comes to computer security your safety is only as good as the weakest link in the chain.
You can test your password strength by clicking on the following link.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

VIRUS PROTECTION

Do you have an updated anti-virus program running on your computer?  The internet is far too risky a place to connect your computer without proper protection.  It’s not just the “risky” internet sites, or what is perceived as “risky” that you need to worry about.  All websites can be potentially dangerous, sites that you normally trust are being hacked, infected with malware, and can infect your computer with a nasty virus.  It doesn’t stop there, any shared data or information is a risk; email, games, downloads, documents, music, videos, and so on… malicious code is everyplace and it is getting worse.  The majority of computer viruses are not created by book smart “computer geeks” anymore.  Cyber Criminals have turned computer viruses into a lucrative business; they are after your money and personal information.  Protect yourself, always follow these basic rules:

  • Always keep you firewall turned on
  • Install and automatically update anti-virus software
  • Install the newest version of anti-virus software annually, or as new versions are made available
  • Automatically install all security updates
  • Install / update your internet browser to the newest version
  • Install / update all software used to read or play information over the internet
  • Configure all software to automatically install security updates
  • Be very cautious when downloading files from the internet, if it sounds too good…
  • Do not open email attachments, unless you are 100% confident you can trust the source
  • Do not click on website links embedded in unsolicited emails, if you must, use a search engine
  • Be as cautions on social websites as you are with your email attachments and links
  • Do not open email attachments or links from any source if they appear to be “out of character”
  • Do not email secure personal information to anyone! (Account numbers, social security, etc…)
  • Always go with your gut feelings and surf safe!

If you’re not sure how to secure your computer and home network, please contact a certified Computer Security Specialist in your area.  It’s easier and cheaper to reduce your risk now than have to repair the damages later.

Friday, June 3, 2011

MAGNIFYING GLASS

Did you know your computer has a built-in magnifying glass?  Microsoft Windows has included a magnifying glass with every version of its operating system since windows 98.  Called Magnifier, it has improved with every new release of the Microsoft operating system.  The procedure to start Magnifier changes a little for each version, for detailed instruction click on the associated link below:

Windows 98

Windows XP

Windows VISTA

Windows 7

Friday, May 27, 2011

INTERNET PANIC BUTTON

Instantly stop all processes associated with Microsoft Internet Explorer, including a Scareware pop-up. Once setting this up, the next time something unexpected happens while you’re surfing the web, such as a pop-up warning you that a virus has infected your computer, just click on the start button and then click on the “INTERNET PANIC BUTTON”, presto, no more Internet Explorer or Scareware pop-up. This will safely close every process associated with Internet Explorer in one easy click, instantly putting a stop to any unwanted internet activity.

Requires Vista or Windows 7 Operating System

How to setup:
  1. Right click anyplace on your desktop
  2. From the menu: click on New, then Shortcut
  3. Cut and paste this command into the box: taskkill.exe /f /im iexplore.exe /t
  4. Click Next
  5. Cut and paste this text into the box: INTERNET PANIC BUTTON
  6. Click Finish
  7. Right click on the new shortcut on your desktop labeled, “INTERNET PANIC BUTTON”
  8. From the menu: click on Pin to Start Menu
  9. You are done.

Click on your Start Button and you will now see, “INTERNET PANIC BUTTON” on your start menu. Next time something unexpected happens, hit the panic button!