391 The best tips for computer security

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Today I’ve compiled some of the security advice I talk about, all here in one place.

Best computer security tips


Don’t open email attachments
Many people tell me, “I don’t open any email attachments, unless it’s from someone I know”. WRONG. My policy is this: I don’t open email attachments, ESPECIALLY if it’s from someone I know. Think about it – if your best friend in the world clicks on something and his computer gets infected, he probably won’t even know it. So his computer sends out infected emails to his entire contact list – including you.

You should only open an email attachment if you know with certainty what that attachment is. My own mother could send me an email that says “Hey, I found this old picture of you!” and I would not click to open it without checking with her first, to see what it is. (And by the way, that phrase about finding an old picture is a common email message – it’s designed to arouse your curiosity and get you to click to view it without thinking.)


If an alert pops up on your screen with a phone number to call, it’s a scam
This is pretty common now. You’re using your computer, and suddenly there’s a big alert telling you that the computer is infected and needs to be cleaned immediately. There’s also often a computerized voice blaring from your speakers, telling you to call the number on the screen. And you usually can’t just close the window. And the voice and the text on the screen is telling you, don’t close the warning or the computer will be permanently damaged. Of course, this is all a scam. The whole point of it is to get you to call the number. Never call the number.

Just restart the computer. If you are unable to click to restart, hold in the computer’s power button for 10 seconds until the computer shuts off. Wait a few seconds. Then press and release the power button to turn it back on. In most cases, the “alert” will be gone.

This also applies if you get an email telling you that your Norton subscription or your McAfee subscription has been renewed – also always a scam. Never call that phone number.


Keep your software up to date
One of the most common ways for a virus or malware to get into your computer is by exploiting security holes in various software programs. That’s why software is constantly being updated – to keep it safe. If you’re on my Managed Service Plan, these updates are done for you.

One thing to be careful of though – sometimes you’ll see something pop up and say a program needs an update, and the update alert is fake. They just want you to click on it, and then you’re downloading junk or malware to your computer. So only click on the legitimate update alerts. Not sure how to know if an alert is real or fake? That’s another reason to get on my Managed Service Plan and have it handled for you.


Only use passwords that are strong AND unique
Strong means you don’t use anything that’s pronounceable or any words found in the dictionary.
Unique means you don’t re-use a password. That also means don’t use the same password with a “1” or an exclamation point added to the end. Password-guessing software knows about that and can guess thousands of variations in seconds.

A strong password is just a series of random number and upper and lower case letters, with maybe a character such as a dollar sign or pound sign thrown in. If you can remember it, it’s not a good password. I use LastPass to manage all of my passwords, so they’re strong and I don’t have to remember any of them.


Don’t click a link unless you KNOW where it is taking you
This applies when you’re on Facebook, or reading an email, or just about anything you might be doing on your computer. In many cases, a hoax or a scammer just has one goal: to get you to click on a link. Don’t fall for it.

You might click a link and then nothing happens. So you figure, “Eh, I guess it’s a bad link or it just didn’t work or something.” And you forget about it. But even though you didn’t SEE anything happen on your screen, clicking that link triggered all kinds of activity inside your computer. Of course the virus doesn’t want you to see that anything happened – if you don’t think anything is going on, you won’t take any steps to fix it. So just don’t click any unknown links.


If you get a call from Microsoft or the IRS, just hang up
Microsoft will never call you. The IRS will never call you. These calls are ALWAYS from scammers. And don’t try to question them or reason with them, because they are very good at their job. The longer you stay on the phone, the more likely they are to convince you that this is a legitimate call. Don’t talk to them. Just hang up.


Always have a current backup
The time to have a backup in place is before your computer’s internal drive has a problem. When your house is on fire, it’s too late to run out and buy a smoke alarm. I’ve set up a mostly automated backup process for MANY of my clients. All you need is a portable drive (they’re cheap), and all you have to do is plug in that drive at night, then check the date and unplug it the next morning. I can set this up for you remotely. If you store anything important on your computer (documents, pictures, etc) you need to do this now. The most likely thing to fail on your computer is the hard drive, and it can happen without any warning. I see this all the time. Most people learn the value of a backup only after they’ve lost the critical files on their computer – don’t let that happen.

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