Bad computer habits you need to kick – part 1

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Since we use our computers just about every day, sometimes all day, it’s easy to get into a routine.  As human beings, we have a set of habits.  That means we don’t necessarily do things a certain way because it’s the safest or most efficient, but rather it’s just because we’ve always done it that way.  These are some of the most common bad computer habits I see.  I’ll cover 4 this week and 4 next week.

bad computer habits

 

1. Weak and reused passwords
No one would ever guess your dog’s name followed by your birth date, right?  Wrong.  You have to get out of the mindset of thinking “this would be hard for someone to guess” or “no way could anyone ever know this about me”.  That’s because in most cases, the bad guy is not sitting at his computer trying to guess your password.  He has software that can do that at a much higher rate of speed, and it can work tirelessly for hours.  Or days or weeks.

And even if you have a really strong password (random numbers, and upper and lower case letters and other characters), it’s just as unsafe if you use that same one across multiple accounts.  If someone happens to get into one of your accounts, they can get into most of the others as well.  Don’t be an easy target.

Lesson: use strong, unique passwords on every account.

2. Searching for a website when you already know the address
This one really drives me nuts.  I used to work with someone who would do this.  Here’s an example of how he would do it.  Let’s say he wanted to go to Yahoo.com.  Here’s the process he would use:

  1. Open Internet Explorer and in the address bar, type “www.google.com”
  2. When Google comes up, click in the search field and type “www.yahoo.com”
  3. When the search results came up, Yahoo would be the first one listed, so he would click on that and it would take him to Yahoo

First, this is extremely inefficient.  In step 1, he could have just typed “yahoo.com” and gone straight to the Yahoo website.  That’s the quickest way to do it if you already know the website address (URL) that you want to visit.  And if you go there regularly, make it a bookmark or you could even make it your home page.

Second, and probably more important, this is a dangerous way to visit websites.  If you’re in the habit of typing a URL in Google’s search field and then just blindly clicking on the first search result in the list, there will come a day when you will click on something and it will take you to a malicious website.  The scammers and hackers know that a lot of people do this, so they make websites that are designed to come up high in the search results.  Or they will even purchase an actual Google ad, so that it definitely shows up at the top (it will technically labeled as an ad, but a lot of people won’t notice that and will just click on it anyway).  As soon as that site is visited, the computer could be infected.  Or it could pop up some fake “update” message that could trick you into clicking and downloading malware to your computer.

Lesson: If you know the actual website address, just type it in the address bar and hit Enter – no need to use Google.

3. Ignoring error messages
Sometimes I’ll get a phone call from someone, and the problem with their computer is this constant error message that keeps coming up.  It’s really bugging them because it comes up every time they turn on the computer.  My first question of course is, “What is the error message?”.  Most of the time they don’t know because they didn’t write it down.  My next question is when did this first start happening.  In many cases, the client tells me that it started happening a long time ago, like several weeks or even months.  They’ve just been ignoring it.  Bad idea!

That error message could be indicating a serious problem – if so, it should be fixed quickly.  You might not see any obvious symptoms or other things happening, but that doesn’t mean it’s having no effect.  And from a practical standpoint, sometimes an error is easily remedied if we catch it right when it starts coming up.  Even a System Restore could be a potential fix – but not if the error is 3 months old.

Lesson: Take action when you first see an error message.

4. Storing files and folders on the desktop
This is another pretty common one.  There might be a folder that has some documents in it that you access all the time, so you want to be able to get to it quickly.  So it goes on the desktop.  Or maybe you download pictures from your phone regularly, and the easiest thing is to just thrown them in a folder on the desktop.  Before you know it, your desktop is covered with files and folders, and you probably notice your computer running more slowly.

The desktop is not really designed for storage and having a significant amount of data there will slow down the computer.  However, I understand the need for having quick access to certain files sometimes.  There is a solution for that.  Put the file or folder where it should really be stored (in Documents, or Pictures, or wherever appropriate).  Then, do a right click on that file, move your mouse down to “Send to” and then click on “Desktop – create shortcut”.  Now you will still have that same one-click access to the file or folder, but the only thing on the desktop will be the shortcut icon – which takes up almost no space at all.

Lesson: Put shortcuts on the desktop rather than the actual file or folder.

Are you guilty of these bad habits?  It’s something to work on this week!  Next Monday I’ll have the final four.

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Mary
August 2nd, 2014

So how do you remember all those unique passwords?
I am a very light computer user 25 passwords written down on a list that I typed in Word and saved it there!
Thanks,
Mary

Scott Johnson
August 2nd, 2014

Mary, I don’t know most of my passwords. The key is to use LastPass. I did a blog post about it:
http://computertutorflorida.com/2012/07/a-free-solution-to-your-password-problem/

Janet
August 17th, 2014

Do you recommend Roboform as an alternative to LastPass?

Scott Johnson
August 17th, 2014

Roboform is a reasonable alternative. I just prefer LastPass personally.