By Katie McElveen
There’s nothing like getting a new computer. After all, they’re faster, smaller and lighter than what they replace. They’re also pristine, clean from the crumbs, fingerprints and smudges that eventually collect on a well-used device. Most importantly, though, they’re free from the viruses and other malicious programs, like spyware and ransomware, that, at their worst, can disable a network, rob users of their identity, scramble a hard drive or cut off access to documents or other data.
Dirt is easy to remove. Viruses, not so much. “They’re unfortunately a fact of life,” says Bill Carter, who has owned Silicon Solutions, which builds and repairs computers and networks, since 1998. “More than half of the computers that come in here are loaded with some kind of malware. Luckily, getting a virus or picking up some malware isn’t necessarily the end of the world. It takes some time, but we can generally get them out.”
According to Bill, one of the most common problems is adware, which mines hard drives for recent queries so that advertisers can target the user with ads. “When an ad seems to magically appear on a web site for something you just searched for on the computer, that’s adware,” explains Bill. “It won’t necessarily harm your computer, but programs add up on the hard drive and will eventually slow down computing speed.”
The easiest way to keep computers speedy is to minimize the chance of infection. Bill says the first line of defense is to consider switching from Explorer to a browser like Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox, which offer better protection. “If you’re not sure how to do it, just take it to a professional. For around $100 we can set you up with a new browser, add software that will secure your information and remove existing viruses.”
Then there are the viruses embedded in emails and websites. “Check every email you get very carefully before you open it, and the location of your cursor before you click,” instructs Bill. “Programmers have gotten very savvy. If an email looks even the tiniest bit off, don’t open it.” That goes for downloads as well. “It’s fine to have a Bible verse or joke delivered to your inbox every day, but read that contract before you click the ‘accept’ button. You might be surprised to see all the things you’re actually agreeing to allow on your computer.” Dishonest programmers also use malware to reconfigure screen images so that the cursor will hover over an accept button. “One second it’s on no, and the next it’s on yes, without anyone touching the screen,” says Bill. “If you don’t look closely before you click, you could be in trouble.”
Bill also cautions against downloading programs that promise to speed up a slow computer. “It’s just another ploy to get you to open the door to your hard drive,” he notes.
Although viruses are the number one computer problem seen by the techs at Silicon Solutions, they’re not the only pest that confounds computer owners. Since an electrical surge — which is often the result of lightning — can knock out the computer’s network card in the blink of an eye, it’s a good idea for computer owners to invest in a Uninterrupted Power Supply surge protector. That way, if a storm moves in, the computer can be shut off before a surge occurs. Laptop owners can simply unplug. It’s smart to disconnect computers and modems before going out of town, too.
Crashed hard drives also make regular appearances at Silicon Solutions, but, quite often, they’re just old. “Like anything, they just wear our over time,” he explains. “Although dropping a laptop will speed up the process considerably.”
Anyone who uses the Internet should be concerned about security as well. Bill cautions surfers to vary passwords, change them often, write them down and never email or text them. Backing up data is also important, although Bill does note that this is easy to say, but tough to do. “There’s no easy answer,” he explains. “There are cloud services, but they’re Internet based. Flash drives may not hold enough data, and don’t always work. The best advice I can give is to figure out the best way to back up the things that are the most important to you, like contacts or photos.”
Backing up data isn’t just important in the case of a crashed computer. One of the newest ways thieves are making money is to use a “ransomware” program to “kidnap” a person’s data — holding it hostage until the owner pays the thief a ransom. “The best way to keep your computer secure is to pay attention and back things up,” says Bill. “Do that, and you can avoid a lot of problems.”
For ways to keep your computer running smoothly… check out the infographic below!