Computer emergencies – Part 2 of 2

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Last Monday I posted about how to handle a couple of specific computer emergencies (a spilled drink on your laptop, and a failing hard drive).  This week in Part 2, we’ll cover two more emergency situations that require to you take action right away.


Computer emergencies

No need for panic if you plan ahead


computer emergencyComputer emergency #3: Thunderstorm
You’re working at your computer, and you hear a rumble of thunder off in the distance.  Here in Florida, during the summer this happens almost every afternoon.  A storm is coming your direction.

How to react:  If you hear thunder, or see lightning, unplug your computer(s) from the wall.  That’s the policy in our house – whenever there is a sign of a thunderstorm, we unplug all of the computers and the large screen TV.  In other words, the expensive things.

Be aware – just turning it off does not protect it.  You have to disconnect the power cord from the outlet.

“It’s okay, I have a surge protector!”  Sorry, that doesn’t matter.  Don’t get me wrong; a surge protector is a good thing to have.  The voltage coming out of your wall outlet can go up and down, and a surge protector keeps that fluctuation from damaging your computer.  But it’s no match to defend against a nearby lightning strike.  I’ve seen many computers that have been fried, even behind a surge protector.  It’s like saying, “I drive 160 mph on my motorcycle, but I’m safe because I always wear my helmet!”.  Helmets are good, but if you hit a tree at that speed your story will not have a happy ending.

There’s one thing that I don’t bother unplugging: my router/modem.  Our internet is Verizon FIOS, so the modem and router are one unit, and Verizon owns it.  I leave that plugged in and turned on, which means I can still go online with my laptop (battery power of course) and I can still connect my phone to wifi.  Worse case scenario is that the Verizon modem gets zapped, and I’m willing to risk that since Verizon will just replace it with a new one.

How to prevent this:  If you have a way of preventing inclement weather, I’d like to talk to you.


computer emergencyComputer emergency #4: Your laptop is stolen
There are lots of scenarios where this happens.  Laptops get stolen at the airport, in the library, at a coffee shop or restaurant, or even from your home.  It’s a sick feeling when you realize that’s what has happened.  Its’ one of those interesting psychological oddities.  Just about everyone knows that it’s important to prepare for this happening, but since no one ever expects THEIR computer to be stolen, most people are caught completely off guard.

How to react:  There are a few things you’ll need to do right away, and they won’t necessarily be in this order:

  • Call the police.  It’s very unlikely that they will be able to use their investigation to recover your laptop and get it back to you, but you should still file a report with all the details (including the make, model and serial number of the laptop).  You will need a police report if you are going to make an insurance claim for the loss.
  • Log in to your Prey Project account and report it as missing.  This is your most likely method of getting it back.  More details on Prey Project below.
  • Regarding your personal files and information, what you need to do depends on how critical and confidential those files are, and what steps you have taken to secure them.  Do you have your passwords all stored in a Word document in the Documents folder?  When you do online banking, does the computer automatically enter your login password?  If so, you need to get to another computer and change all of your important passwords.

Encrypting the drive with a good password keeps everything safe from anyone trying to get in (note that I am not talking about just a Windows password here).  But not everyone needs that level of security.  If this is a concern, get in touch with me and I can help you with this.

How to prevent this:  Preventing a laptop from getting stolen is mostly common sense.  Keep an eye on it, don’t leave it unattended, that kind of thing.  If you leave it in your car, cover it up with something and always lock the doors.  But these things are not a guarantee.  You have to be prepared for this to happen.  If you don’t think about this and plan for it ahead of time, it will be much harder to deal with.

I’ve written about the Prey Project in the past.  It’s free.  Set up a free account and get their little background program running on your computer.  When the thief goes online with your laptop, the software sends a signal out, telling its location with pretty good accuracy based on the wifi connection.  And even better – it will use the webcam to take a picture of the person using it.  You might even know the person, which means you can tell the police exactly where to go and recover your laptop.  There are lots of stories about that happening, which you can read on the Prey Project website.

To keep the thief out of your websites and any account that requires a password, you can simply use your free LastPass account.  That way, the software remembers all of your passwords for you, but the bad guy can’t log in to any of your accounts because he doesn’t know your LastPass password (so make that a good one).  I can help you set that up too.

And, you have to be prepared for possibly never getting your laptop back.  Which means if you have no backup, you lose all your documents, pictures, music, etc.  That is 100% preventable with an automated backup.

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