Back up, don’t click and don’t think you can fix it yourself


Q: We are using Norton anti-virus for our protection against viruses and other threats. Costly renewal is coming up and I wonder if we’d do just as well with one of the free programs you suggest. — Helen Porter

A: Norton does a fine job. In my home we use Norton 360 for my wife’s computer. I use various free programs for protection on several other computers. I do that, in part, to keep up with the free programs so that I can write about them. We have been exceptionally lucky – both on the computer protected by Norton and on those with free software – as far as avoiding malware. The answer to your question really comes down to economics. Norton is worth the cost of renewing in my opinion. But the free programs I’ve recommended in the past also work just fine. So it’s hard to go wrong either way.

Q: Best Buy with their Geek Squad put the following on your computer with their service and I want to know if I should keep them: Kaspersky, Trend Micro and Webroot. — Annette Pierce

A: Those are all good programs and I’d keep them.

If I had to make a list of all the stupid things I’ve done in my long life I’d need a good secretary, a stack of ham sandwiches, and a place to take naps.

So I feel like a true expert today since I’m going to tell you — based on the emails I get — the most insanely stupid things people do when it comes to technology. Don’t feel bad if some of the items strike home. I’m not saying you are stupid — smart people often do stupid things. Or that’s what I tell myself when I screw up.

Backing into trouble

Many of you don’t back up your data. If you own a computer long enough the hard disk will fail. When that happens, you lose everything stored on it — family photos, financial records, emails and email addresses, along with your aunt’s recipe for meatballs. All that information is worth more than your computer. Part of your memories go away forever if the hard disk crashes with no backup.

It happens all the time — based on the frantic emails I receive. Name your poison: A lightning strike, electronic or mechanical failure of a hard disk, or even some hacker that’s scrambled your data. There are ways — expensive ones — to sometimes recover the data. But they don’t always work. And when they do work you pay through the nose to get a specialized company to recover the data.

So make sure you back up your data. I use an online backup service for my data. That way if fire or some other disaster destroys my computer it can’t touch my backup. But backing up to an external hard disk is better than nothing.

Make sure you are backing up your data regularly. Otherwise you’ll soon join the long line of folks who send me sad emails. It’s stupid to take a chance with your precious data.

Click, click — you’re in trouble

Disaster is as close as your mouse. Hackers are busier than ever trying to find ways to separate you from your money. And the schemes usually depend on you clicking some link in an email, on a Web page, or to open an attachment to an email. Unlike the early days there are now some really slick and sophisticated creations out there — stuff that would fool anyone.

So, while I know this sounds drastic, just don’t click on email links — even if the email is from your mom.

And think twice before clicking on links you find on the Web that offer free software, or as a way to enter a contest, or play a game. I know that many times it’ll turn out just fine. But it’s now hard to separate the safe from the dangerous because of the sophistication of these scams. That’s why I’m asking you to live in a no-click zone.

Now you’ve fixed it

There’s a laudable temptation to be your own computer technician. After all, the Web is a great resource when your computer develops a glitch. Just use Google and you are certain to find a way that you can fix the problem yourself. That’s fine as long as you don’t care whether the fix works. There’s a lot of wrongheaded advice out there. And since you are searching for the fix precisely because you don’t know what to do, you’re not knowledgeable enough to separate the good from the bad.

There’s another danger, too. I’ve seen plenty of websites that offer free programs that claim to automate the fixing of a given problem. Some of them really work. But here’s the catch: Others just funnel spyware and adware into your computer. If that happens, you can turn a minor problem into a disaster.

Fix the problems that are truly within your grasp. And make sure you are being honest when you evaluate your computer skills. When you are unsure of what to do don’t rely on advice from a stranger you’ve found on the Web, the smart thing is to bundle up your computer and take it to a computer repair technician.

I’ve just skimmed the surface when it comes to stupid people tricks. But if you do no more than avoid the three I’ve mentioned, you’ll be ahead of the game.