Unlike classic cars or fine wines, software will not improve with age. Vulnerabilities within your computer’s operating system are the ultimate weapon for hackers looking for easy access to your files.
I personally see innocent victims facing the loss of years of personal information because they had no backups of their files. A couple of months ago, I spoke with a customer who was sitting at his computer when every user’s worst nightmare came true: He was met with a lockout screen and a ransom note requesting USD or bitcoin for the release of his personal files. The thought of losing documents, a music library, and most importantly, some old photos of family and friends, was too much for him.
How would you feel if your precious photo collection or work documents were at risk of being destroyed forever unless you chose to pay up? To make sure you don’t end up in the same position, read these essential 4 steps to spring clean your PC.
1. INSTALL ALL SYSTEM AND SOFTWARE UPDATES
You’re sitting at your computer and one of those little icons pops up alerting you to the fact that you need to update Windows again. Constantly installing and updating your software may feel like a hassle, and you may wonder why Windows needs to be updated every day (or so it seems). It’s important to remember, however, that the cost of ignoring them may end up being much higher than the 5 minute restart that is required.
So, why are updates so important? Because they address important changes to the program such as:
If you haven’t got one already, make sure to install an anti-malware program and do a thorough scan of your computer.
Many antivirus programs do more harm than good though, so it’s important to pick one that has a good malware discovery engine, doesn’t flood you with pop ups of its own, & is lightweight to keep your computer fast.
For a one-time scan, I recommend Emsisoft Emergency Kit. It’s free and runs without needing to be installed.
Note that this only performs a one-time scan - it is not a replacement for actual antivirus - think of it as a first-aid kit to immediately patch the worst threats.
For longer-term protection, each product has its pros and cons. Personally, I use a tailored solution that provides scheduled scans, real time protection, an unbeatable malware discovery engine, direct connection to responsive tech support, and more. Emails and websites are common spaces for threats - and this solution has saved me several times already.
It’s not my place to publicly bash or promote specific products, so if you would like any input, feel free to reach out!
3. BACKUP YOUR SYSTEM
While it can feel a little like having your car serviced – you know you should do it, but don’t as often as you should — regular backups stored on a disconnected device really are the best defense, particularly against ransomware attacks.
Ransomware will often explicitly target backups which is why it is important to store them where they can’t be readily reached. In general, there are two options:
External hard drives are a good option as they can be kept physically disconnected from your computer and locked away for safekeeping. It is, however, very important to remember that if the hard drive is plugged in to a computer with ransomware, it very well could become infected. External hard drives also do go bad from time to time, leaving them unreadable. Finally, they are vulnerable to physical threats - like being dropped, electrically shorted, or zapped by a cup of orange juice in the case of my Aunt!
Cloud backups save your files online, which is a convenient option that will also protect your data in case of theft, damage or other physical threats.
The first backup to the cloud can take quite a long time, but after that it will only upload updated & new files, so it becomes fairly quick. Cloud syncs usually occur monthly or weekly, depending on the importance of the files. Overall, they are more secure and reliable than hard drive backups.
For cloud backups, you have options with Amazon AWS, Backblaze, and Carbonite. I also host a cloud bucket of my own (a fancy word for internet storage) and would be happy to help host your files.
4. MAINTAIN A VIGILANT ATTITUDE
It’s an unfortunate reality that threats and vulnerabilities are a big part of our day-to-day interaction with computers. Whether it be checking emails, downloading and installing a program - or even just browsing the web - it’s important to remain skeptical of pretty much everything.
Sometimes I’ll have a customer that asks me if the Windows 10 updates they’re getting popups for are a virus or not. Although to me it might be obvious, I’m still very thankful that they ask when they are unsure. When in doubt, ask a technician or just take the safe route and click the “X” button.
IN SUMMARY: ULTIMATE PROTECTION REQUIRES A LAYERED APPROACHWhile these tips may seem obvious, you should ask yourself: do you really do all of these things on a regular basis? Start your digital spring on the right foot and clean your computer with these easy steps, and have a great (malware-free) spring!
Data can be lost very quickly in today’s day and age. If it isn’t properly backed up, it might just disappear at any moment.
Technology has become very advanced, which is a blessing. However, technology is never risk proof. Simply put, there is a chance that any piece of technology can quit working, at any time, and important data and information may be gone forever. This issue can be easily prevented, by backing up the files you want to keep safe.
Here are some ways to backup your data:
1) To An External Hard Drive - this option is relatively cost efficient, and quite simple. External hard drives have become much cheaper over the past several years. You can plug them right into your computer, and every so often back up your current files to it. This will ensure that, in case of an emergency, you know your files and data are on the hard drive. Hard drives are compatible with all computers, so if you purchase a new PC or Apple product the files are easily transferable.
2) To the Cloud - With the recent development of cloud services such as Google Drive, and Amazon Web Services, it has become much easier to back up information online. The “cloud” is basically what we call backing up information to an online server. This option is perfect for those looking to access files and data from other computers and/or other places, because the information is accessible through the internet. The one worrying factor the cloud presents is that without proper firewalls and safety protocols in place, information could get corrupted or stolen. With that being said, Google and Amazon have increased their security measures recently, so the average cloud user should not be concerned.
3) To USB/Thumb Drives - Thumb drives are similar to external hard drives, except they are smaller. This is beneficial to people/businesses that need information spread out between various places. Instead of purchasing multiple hard drives that take up larger amounts of space, thumb drives are much more convenient. Thumb drives are also very cheap, which make them cost efficient. If you are looking to back up a small amount of data, or multiple batches of different files, thumb drives may be the way to go.
Are you looking to back up your data? Do you need direction/assistance in doing so? Feel free to leave a comment down below, or call us at 989-255-9292, and we will be more than happy to help you work through the confusion.
Did you know: If you are a new computer or smartphone owner, you are a top target for hackers and/or spies to try and steal your information. If you picked up a new piece of technology over the holiday season, this post is for you!
Here are three benefits to protecting your personal data:
Are you looking to protect your new computer, smartphone, or technological device? Feel free to leave a comment down below, or call us at 989-255-9292, and we will be more than happy to help you work through the confusion.
It's pretty clear why viruses could slow down your computer - they can hijack anything, from programs to files to your browser and show ads, report private data, or delete your personal information. Viruses usually take up a lot of PC processing power and will make your computer more and more unreliable over time. To remove these viruses, download and install an antivirus/antimalware solution and run a scan that quarantines threats.
2. Clogged startup
Many programs create a startup entry for themselves once you install them. As these startup entries pile up, the computer has to dedicate more and more processing power to these startup demands, which means less power is left to load the desktop and open applications, especially during the first several minutes when you've turned your computer on. By disabling startup entries in Task Manager and the System Configuration utility, you can drastically improve startup time for your computer.
3. Full hard drive
Windows operating systems generally start to slow down when your hard drive is over 90-95% full. With this in mind, it's a good idea to purchase an external hard drive or thumb drive and move your biggest files - usually contained in picture and video folders - over to that external drive so your hard drive has some free space. Deleting programs you don't use is another great way to clear out some hard drive space.
4. Fragmented hard drive
As files and folders get written, edited, and deleted over time, parts of some files get spread out over different parts of the hard disk. For example, if you install a new program after deleting a few files, the new program will take up data in the old data blocks that the files were in, plus any additional blocks on other parts of the hard drive. When programs like this are run, Windows has to constantly jump back and forth between different parts of the hard disk, slowing the process down entirely. By defragmenting your hard drive, Windows
5. Windows temp files
Various temporary files, such as cached internet webpages, the Recycle Bin, log files, and thumbnails are stored by Windows even though those files aren't necessarily important. Clearing these files out using the Disk Cleanup utility can moderately speed up your computer and often save you a good amount of space on your hard drive as well.
6. Windows Indexing
When you search the start menu, Windows searches results from an indexed database to increase the speed at which you receive results. However, this can be counterproductive if Windows is set to index the entire C:\ drive or various folders (such as AppData) that usually don't get searched yet take a long time to index. By opening the Indexing Options dialog, you can allow for indexing on your Users folder without searching the rest of your computer - maximizing the speed of both your start menu searches and the rest of your PC's functionality.
7. Appearance features
Windows has always been an operating system known for its unique UI customization features. Especially from Windows Vista on through 7, 8, 8.1, and 10, appearance features like animations, fades, transparency in Windows Aero, and smoothed fonts can cause your PC to run a decent amount slower. Disabling these effects under Performance Options can provide a much needed boost in your PC's speed without requiring you to upgrade your hardware.
8. Google Chrome
Google Chrome isn't the lightest program when it comes to your computer's resources, specifically RAM usage. Each tab and extension requires more hardware usage than most of its competing browsers. This doesn't mean you have to ditch Google Chrome, however - by disable extensions you don't use - especially search engine extensions that are usually adware anyway - along with disabling push notifications, and disabling the background Chrome service altogether, you can tame Chrome to become a much more manageable beast on your resources.
9. Background services
Some background services, such as Plug and Play or the DNS client are very important and critical for Windows to run stably. Others, such as ones added by programs that you've installed, might not be necessary. Such services can be disabled in the System Configuration utility. It might even be a good idea to disable all non-Microsoft services for a clean boot - probably the easiest way to boost your speed in just a few clicks.
10. Not enough RAM
So you've removed startup entries, got rid of unnecessary programs, cleaned up 200 infections in Malwarebytes, and tweaked some other settings, but your computer is still crawling. Now what? The honest truth is, no matter how well you clean your computer, old hardware is the ultimate limiting factor when it comes to speed. If you're trying to run Windows 7 or 10 with 1GB or 2GB of RAM, it's definitely time for an upgrade. I recommend an absolute minimum of 4GB RAM to get by in 2020, and would highly recommend purchasing 8GB for the extra breathing room, even 16GB for the small extra price if you can afford it.
The best time to upgrade to Windows 10 was long ago - before Microsoft dropped its support for Windows 7. The second best time to upgrade is right now - each day in waiting is another 24 hours you're leaving your computer vulnerable to a plethora of threats online.
Here are 10 reasons why you should upgrade as soon as possible.
Microsoft doesn't support Windows 7 anymore
You've probably heard about Microsoft dropping all support for Windows 7 and encouraging all of its users to migrate to Windows 10. This date is now in the past (January 14, 2020). Your Windows 7 computers are now left exposed to hacks, ransomware, and other vulnerabilities.
...and neither will any other software vendors over the next few years
While you can still run Windows 7 and the world won't come to an end, an issue that's going to become larger and larger with time is software compatibility. For example, the newest version of Microsoft Office (2019) already doesn't support Windows 7, while Google Chrome will drop support for Windows 7 in 2021.
Improved built-in security software
Windows 10 comes with Windows Defender built in, and it's better than ever at protecting your computer. The antivirus software works in real-time, so it catches the bad guys before they can ever get into your computer. It's still a good idea to install a third-party antivirus software, however.
Possibly the last Windows upgrade you'll ever need
Microsoft has made it clear that they don't plan on releasing a Windows 11, but will instead continue to update Windows 10 so that it's always up to date. This means that once you upgrade to Windows 10, you probably won't ever need to go through the upgrade process again!
Re-invented and improved Start Menu
While Windows 7 arguably contained Microsoft's best start menu to date, Windows 8 ditched the concept altogether. Due to negative feedback, Microsoft has reinstated the Start menu for Windows 10. It's similar to the start menu you've come to know and love on Windows 7, along with some new features like live tiles and Cortana integration. What if you don't like the new start menu? No worries, there are some third party options for you.
Windows 10 has a notification system similar to a smartphone. Your emails, update information, and other notifications are pushed onto the screen so you are alerted when you need to take action. The Action Center can be turned off as well, so you receive notifications only for things that are important to you.
Internet Explorer has been replaced
Internet Explorer has its share of critics - and for good reason. In general, it wasn't as fast or secure as its fellow browsers such as Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. With Windows 10, Microsoft has re-imagined the browser and released Microsoft Edge. While it still isn't my browser of choice, it most definitely beats Internet Explorer in every mark imaginable. It's faster, more secure, and looks cleaner overall.
New & improved clipboard
Windows 10 has a new clipboard which can store multiple items for copying & pasting. It also provides syncing between devices - so you can copy data from one device and paste it on another!
Better personalization options
While many users despised Windows 8 for its lack of personalization options, Windows 10 has completely flipped the narrative; everything, from the taskbar, to backgrounds on multiple monitors, to accent colors, to light and dark modes for apps, are customizable in Windows 10.
Believe it or not, downloading and installing Windows 10 is still a free process! It involves downloading the Windows 10 Media Creation tool from Microsoft's website and following the fairly straight-forward installation process. Upgrading today for free definitely beats needing to repair your PC down the road because it wasn't protected well enough with Windows 7 or 8.
Bonus: other new features in Windows 10
Windows 10 also includes Cortana (a voice assistant), a full-fledged app store, movies, DirectX12, task view (an easier way to manage open apps), and enhanced syncing capabilities.
With that said, what are you waiting for? Windows 10 has everything you and your business needs and more. Call Elk Country Computer Services (989-255-9292) for a free consultation call to see if your current computer can run Windows 10, or if you'll need new hardware. We'd love to assist you and get you up and running on Microsoft's newest operating system!
I own Elk Country Computer services here in Northern Michigan. I enjoy working with and fixing computers, especially playing around with different operating systems. Some of my other passions include bike riding, traveling, and hanging out with friends.