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!
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.