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9 Ways To Mess Up Your Computer

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We all do dumb things now and then, and even computer experts are no exception. Accidently pressing a wrong key combination or clicking OK instead of Cancel can change important settings that alter a computers behavior or even its performance. At worst, it may even cause it to crash.

Some computer newbies are so fearful about doing anything on their PCs that they actually cause more harm than good. Just understand that short of taking a sledge hammer to it, the consequences are usually not so dramatic. None the less, there are some things that if not done properly or not done at all, can cause you more grief and pain than you can imagine. With this being said, here are some ideas that I’d like to share that can minimize many of these issues.

  1. Plugging Your PC into the wall without surge protection.
    If you believe that the only time your PC is in danger of an electrical surge during a thunder storm, you will be sadly surprised. Appliances like hair dryers, air conditioners, and microwave ovens, if on the same circuit as the computer that is plugged in, can cause a surge that would fry your computer permanently.

    Purchase a good quality surge protection device from the local hardware or electronics store. They are cheap compared to cost of all the lost information in your PC as well as the PC itself. An upgrade to this is an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). These devices much like a surge protector but with a backup battery that allows you to shut down your computer in a timely manner in the event that you experience a total power loss in your area.

  2. Surfing the Internet without firewall protection.
    This one is very popular. Do you know what a firewall is? If not, this section is for you. If you do know what they are and do not have it active, shame on you! Many users simply plug in to their cable-modems or network and off to surf the internet they go. They don’t even realize that they have put their PC at risk to viruses and hackers. What a firewall does is create a ‘virtual wall’ between the PC and the rest of the electronic world (network or internet). Nothing goes in or out without permission from the user. Every internet connected PC should have some firewall protection. Whether that is coming from a server that is on the network, the cable modem/router it is connected to, or some third party software like Kerio or ZoneAlarm. Make sure it is on at all times.

  3. Forgetting to run or update anti-virus or anti-spam protection.
    Anti-virus and anti-spam software can, at times be a royal pain. They always interrupt what software you are trying to use and they constantly are updating themselves. But there is good reason for it. Viruses and spyware and the hackers that create them are constantly changing and morphing in order to get to your PC. Make sure that you get the latest updates. Do full scans of your PC at least once a week.

  4. Install and uninstall lots of programs.
    If you are the type that likes to get free software or likes to check out the latest and greatest on programs that are coming out. There are many programs called freeware and shareware on the internet for downloading. There are even some that are pirated called “warez”. Be aware that installing these programs, even temporarily, eventually have an effect on your PCs performance. The more programs you install, the more likely you are to run across programs that have malicious code or that is so poorly written that is causes your PC to act up or even crash. The risk is greater with pirated software. Even if you install only licensed, final released software, too many installations and uninstallations can eventually affect what is called the Registry. The Registry is a centralized database in Windows that holds vital information to configure the system for users, software and hardware and applications. Not all uninstalled programs remove everything from the hard drive either. Stick with legitimate software, and try to minimize the number of installs and uninstalls of software.

  5. Keep disks full and fragmented.
    One of the results of add and removing programs and data from your PC is that is fragments your hard drive. When you first used your PC, the hard drive was ‘clean’ and thus able to place programs and data in a way that it can retrieve them quickly and efficiently. Over time though, areas that are deleted or removed get replaced with pieces of other programs and data that eventually affect the performance of your PC. Us the disk defragmenter built into Windows (Programs|Accessories|System Tools), or a third-party defrag program to rearrange these pieces of program and data back to a more efficient place on the hard drive.

    Another reason for poor performance from your PC is having your hard drive be too full. Many programs create temporary files and need extra free space on the disk to operate. You can use Windows XP’s Disk Cleanup Tool or a third-party program to find and delete rarely used files.

  6. Open all attachments.
    When you receive emails with attachments, the temptation to open them is like getting an unexpected gift. You just HAVE to open it and take a peek. But just like a package left at your doorstep could contain a bomb, an attached file could contain code that can delete your documents or system folder or send viruses to everyone in your address book. Look for the extension of the file and see if it contains an .exe or .cmd. There is a list at the following web site that describes the various extensions to look for. The best defense though is common sense. If you get an email from somebody, even a friend, and you did not expect it. Verify it. Check with the sender to make sure they indeed sent it.

  7. Clicking everything.
    Opening attachments isn’t the only type of mouse click that can get you into trouble. Clicking on links in email messages or on Web pages can take you to Web sites that embedded programs called ActiveX (which are not all bad) controls that can perform all sorts of things on your PC. From wiping out the hard drive to installing backdoor programs that a hacker can use to get access your PC. Think before you click. Links can also be disguised in ‘phishing’ messages or on Web sites to appear to take you to a different site from the ones they really point to. For example, the link might say, but it actually takes you to You can often find out the real destination by hovering over the link with the mouse pointer without clicking it.

  8. Picking the wrong passwords.
    Here is another common mistake that can cause you a lot of trouble. Don’t pick a password that is easy to guess, such as your birth date, a loved one, SSN, etc. Hacker use password cracking ‘dictionaries’ that can find common words people use in their passwords. Longer passwords are harder to crack, so make passwords at least 6 characters long. Include numbers, upper case and lower case letter combinations, and symbols! Memorize the password and don’t write it down. I’ll talk about being creative on passwords in a future column.

  9. Ignore the need for a backup and recovery plan.
    Now that I have scared you enough about what can go wrong and have given you some suggestions on how to prevent them, there is still a matter that it’s never 100 percent full proof. Things can happen; you may even have hardware failure! But, rest assured, if you take the time to backup you PC periodically, that pain and headache of losing everything is minimized. Remember, it’s not the hardware on the PC that is important, it’s the DATA! The operating system can be replaced and the application can be reinstalled, but it may be difficult or impossible to replace that photo of that cute baby of yours!! Use the built-in Windows backup program (NTbackup.exe in Windows NT, 2000, and XP) or a third-party backup program. I’ll talk more in detail about this subject too in a later column.

The PC is a wonderful device that allows you to do so many things. Yet this flexibility has it’s vulnerabilities that you must not only be aware of, but take action against. If you find the information above helpful, drop us a message and let us know. All questions or comments are welcomed.