Introduction

In today’s digital age, owning a computer is almost as essential as having running water. Computers play a significant role in our daily lives, whether for work, school, entertainment, or home use. However, many users overlook crucial practices that can enhance their computer systems’ efficiency, longevity, and security. Here are some essential tips for computer owners to operate their systems efficiently and securely.

Keep Software Updated

Regularly update your operating system (e.g., Windows), antivirus software, and other applications. Updates often contain security patches and performance enhancements that help protect your computer from vulnerabilities and ensure optimal performance. Most operating systems and software applications have automatic update options, which you should enable to ensure timely installation of updates.

A business environment may have policies for updating the operating system and applications to ensure there are no compatibility issues with company applications or processes. Check with your IT staff for more information about updates.

Use Strong Passwords

Choose complex passwords for your accounts and change them periodically. Avoid using easily guessable information like birthdays or pet names. A strong password typically includes a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.

Consider using a password manager to securely store and manage your passwords for various accounts. Password managers not only generate strong passwords but also automatically fill them in when needed, making it easier to maintain secure credentials across different platforms.

Consider using passphrases instead of cryptic passwords, typically generated by password managers. Of course, using a password manager negates to remember the passwords, but sometimes you may find it easier to remember a complex passphrase than a cryptic password when using the password manager may be precarious, e.g., signing into a site where your password manager is not installed on the computer being used.

Enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

Add an extra layer of security to your accounts by enabling 2FA wherever possible. This requires a second form of verification, such as a code sent to your phone, in addition to your password. 2FA significantly reduces the risk of unauthorized access to your accounts, even if your password is compromised. Many online services, including email providers, social media platforms, and financial institutions, offer 2FA as an option to enhance security.

The 2FA may be implemented as a text message to your mobile number or by using a authentication app (e.g., Google authenticator). In either case, 2FA adds a second layer of security to accessing your online accounts.

Create Backups

Regularly back up your important files and documents to an external hard drive or cloud storage service. This ensures that your data is safe in case of hardware failure, loss of your computer, malware attacks, or accidental deletion. Ideally, you should have multiple backup copies stored in different locations to mitigate the risk of data loss. Automated backup solutions, such as cloud backup services or scheduled backups to external drives, can streamline the backup process and ensure that your data is always protected.

Be sure to test your backups to ensure they are generated properly. It would be a bad day if you needed to restore files from your backup only to find that the files were never successfully backed up.

Cyber Security Awareness

Be cautious when clicking on links or downloading files from unknown sources. Use reputable antivirus software and browser extensions to protect against malware, phishing attempts, and other online threats. Avoid visiting suspicious websites or clicking on pop-up ads, as they may contain malicious code designed to compromise your computer’s security. Additionally, be wary of email attachments from unknown senders, as they could contain malware or phishing attempts.

Secure Your Wi-Fi Network

Change the default password on your router and use strong encryption (such as WPA2) to secure your Wi-Fi network. Also, consider hiding your network name (SSID) and enabling a firewall for added security. Restrict access to your Wi-Fi network by using a strong password and disabling guest access if it’s not needed. Regularly check for firmware updates for your router and apply them promptly to patch any security vulnerabilities.

Give visitors to your home or office the credentials to a second, guest network when needed. This way, they can access the internet only, and not your home network where your computers are connected to.

Be Wary of Social Engineering

Be skeptical of unsolicited emails, phone calls, or messages requesting personal or financial information. Cybercriminals often use social engineering tactics to trick users into divulging sensitive data or installing malicious software. Verify the identity of the sender before responding to any requests for sensitive information, especially if they claim to be from a legitimate organization or authority. Educate yourself and your family members about common social engineering techniques, such as phishing scams and pretexting, to avoid falling victim to them.

If you setup a computer for a family member or friend who is not knowledgeable about computers and cyber security, you should ensure that they obtain basic information about safely using their computers. Merely setting up someone’s system and walking away could set them up to be hacked.

Monitor System Performance

Keep an eye on your computer’s performance indicators, such as CPU and memory usage. Unnecessary background processes or resource-heavy applications can slow down your system, so consider closing or uninstalling them if necessary.

Use task manager or system monitoring tools to identify and terminate any processes consuming excessive system resources. Regularly clean up temporary files, cache, and cookies to free up disk space and improve system performance.

Encrypt Sensitive Data

Encrypt sensitive data stored on your computer, especially if it contains personal or confidential information. Encryption converts your data into an unreadable format that can only be accessed with the appropriate decryption key or password. Many operating systems offer built-in encryption tools, such as BitLocker for Windows, which you can use to encrypt your hard drive or specific folders containing sensitive data.

Additionally, consider using encryption software or services to protect data stored on external drives or cloud storage platforms. You should especially consider encrypting the hard drive of laptops, which are more prone to be lost or stolen. Anyone acquiring your laptop will be unable to read the files on the encrypted drive. You may not get your laptop back but at least your data is safe.

Stay Informed and Educated

Stay informed about the latest cybersecurity threats and best practices for computer security. Follow reputable cybersecurity blogs, news websites, and social media accounts to stay updated on emerging threats and vulnerabilities. Participate in cybersecurity awareness programs and training sessions to enhance your knowledge and skills in preventing cyber-attacks and protecting your digital assets. By staying informed and educated, you can effectively safeguard your computer and personal information from cyber threats.

Monitor Installed Programs

Over time, you may have installed programs that are no longer used or needed but are still running in the background, consuming precious computer resources. Keep track of the programs you use and uninstall those you no longer need.

Remember to uninstall trial programs that you decide not to purchase.

Monitor Children’s Use of Computer

I have experienced users whose computers were rendered unusable because children were allowed to use the computer unsupervised or using the same account as the parent, which had administrative permissions. Children may download malware to your computer where data may be stolen or files destroyed. Be careful when allowing children usage of your computer.

I highly recommend creating a separate non-administrative account for children who use your computer. This will prevent them from installing programs or changing system parameters without your permission. Best practice dictates that every computer user should have their own account anyway.

Service Your Computer

Have your computer assessed by a trusted IT professional if strange things are happening, e.g., running very slowly, many error messages, or something malfunctioning. It may be as simple as upgrading memory or hard drive to get improved performance or eliminate error messages. Reggie’s PC Resources provides this service to you through our computer monitoring service.

Conclusion

Operating a computer efficiently and securely requires a combination of proactive measures, best practices, and ongoing vigilance. By implementing the tips outlined in this article, computer owners can significantly reduce the risk of security breaches, data loss, and performance issues. Remember that cybersecurity is a shared responsibility, and every computer user plays a critical role in maintaining a safe and secure online environment. Stay vigilant, stay informed, and stay secure!

 

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