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Security Christmas Cheer Windows Hardware IT

4 Tips For Your New Laptop 310

Posted by timothy
from the do-not-use-it-to-carve-meat dept.
Bennett Haselton writes with four big tips for anyone blessed by the holiday buying frenzy with a new laptop; in particular, these are tips to pass on to non-techie relatives and others who are unlikely to put (say) "Install a Free operating system" at the very top of the list: Here's Bennett's advice, in short: (1) If you don't want to pay for an anti-virus program, at least install a free one. (2) Save files to a folder that is automatically mirrored to the cloud, for effortless backups. (3) Create a non-administrator guest account, in case a friend needs to borrow the computer. (4) Be aware of your computer's System Restore option as a way of fixing mysterious problems that arose recently." Read on for the expanded version; worth keeping in mind before your next friends-and-family tech support call.
> If you or a friend -- especially a non-techie friend -- received a laptop for Christmas, these are my favorite low-cost high-benefit tips that anyone can follow. They apply to any operating system, although I'm writing from a Windows-centric point of view.

Yes, a lot of this will be obvious stuff to techies, but I've found that if a human asks a techie "I just got a new laptop, can you give me any advice?", the answer frequently will (a) not cover these crucial bases, and/or (b) include a lot of unhelpful stuff to impress the listener. The following is a baseline for what I think a useful answer should consist of. (And if you're the techie, you may want to walk the laptop owner through following these directions, since I'm not actually spelling out what icons you have to click on, etc.)

(1) If you don't want to pay for an anti-virus program, at least install a free one.

Your PC probably came with a trial version of an anti-virus program that will stop working after a month unless you upgrade to the paid version. Of course you can do that if you want. Especially if you ever think you might want phone tech support for your anti-virus software, I expect it's better for a product that you've paid money for.

On the other hand, I know people who thought that if they didn't want to pay for the upgrade to their PC's default anti-virus program, their only option was to let it expire and let their computer run unprotected. If you don't want to pay for a non-free program, install a free one -- Wikipedia has a list of 15 different free or freemium anti-virus products for Windows. PC Magazine gave their "Editor's Choice" award for best free Windows anti-virus to Malwarebytes Anti-Malware 1.70 in 2013 and AVG Anti-Virus Free in 2012, so either of those will work.

(Yes, I know you guys know this. But pass the word on to your Mom or kid brother with the new laptop.)

(2) Save files to a folder that is automatically mirrored to the cloud, for effortless backups.

The era in which everybody talks about backing up, but nobody actually does it, should have ended completely in 2013. Old-style backups, even the incredibly easy options, still mostly required you stop what you were doing for a minute, connect to a remote server or connect a piece of hardware to your computer, and twiddle your thumbs while waiting for some copy process to execute. So nobody bothered.

With cloud-mirrored folders, there's no excuse any more. I found out about Dropbox by asking a mailing list, "I would really like it if there were an online backup service that let me open and close files from a local folder so that there was no delay, but as soon as I made any changes, would automatically be queued to be backed up over the network to a remote host," and my listmates said, "That already exists." Windows 8 comes with the similar SkyDrive service already built in.

You can read a detailed comparison of Dropbox vs. SkyDrive vs. Google Drive, but the key point is to use one of them to mirror one of your local folders to the cloud, and get into the habit of saving stuff to that folder. Obviously this may not apply to you if you have something special going on (if you're creating large multimedia files that won't fit within the several-gigabyte limit imposed by these services, or if your privacy concerns are great enough that you don't want to back up files online), but it's good enough for most people. The horror stories about people saving months or years of writing, and then losing it all in a hard drive crash, should never happen to anyone again.

(3) Create a non-administrator guest account, in case a friend needs to borrow the computer.

Some of my friends and relatives have no problem telling people, "No, I don't care if you need to check the weather, you can't touch my computer!" But if you can't resist the urge to be helpful if someone needs to borrow your laptop for a few minutes, then eventually one of those people will mess it up somehow -- either by installing a game, or visiting a website that installed malware on your computer, or just changing a system setting that you can't figure out how to change back.

When the day comes when someone needs to borrow your computer, you may be too rushed or might not know how to create an unprivileged non-administrator account that they can log in under. So go ahead and do it when your computer is brand new, while the thought is still fresh in your mind. Then if people who borrow your computer sign in under that account, in almost all cases, nothing that they do while logged in should interfere with your user experience when you log them off and log back in as yourself.

That's not a completely secure solution to stop someone from accessing private files on your computer. (There are many pages describing how to boot up a Windows machine from a Linux CD, in order to access files on the computer -- they are usually described as "disaster recovery" options, but they can also be used to access files on a PC without the password.) However, it will stop most casual users from messing up your computer while they borrow it.

(4) Be aware of your computer's System Restore option as a way of fixing mysterious problems that arose recently.

I say "be aware" because, unlike the other three tips, this may not ever be something that you have to actually do. However, intermediate-level computer users just need to understand what it means: to restore your computer's settings and installed programs to a recently saved snapshot, while leaving your saved files untouched. This means if your computer has started acting funny in the last couple of days, you may be able to fix the problem by restoring to a snapshot that was saved before the problems started.

Intermediate users sometimes confuse this with either (a) restoring files from backup, or (b) doing a system recovery (which generally refers to restoring your computer to the state in which it left the factory). So if you're the techie doing the explaining, make sure they understand the difference. (A system recovery will often fix problems, too, but then of course you'll have to re-install all your software; a system restore is more convenient since it only undoes the most recent system changes.)

So these are the first four things I would tell people who were the recipient of a new laptop. What would you tell them?

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4 Tips For Your New Laptop

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  • NSA (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @12:12PM (#45829457)

    "Save files to a folder that is automatically mirrored to the cloud, for effortless backups."
    Was this article written by the NSA?

  • Re: Cloud != Backup (Score:5, Informative)

    by bryanp (160522) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @12:27PM (#45829681)

    It does in the short term. Most of the cloud services let you recover/undelete a file for up to 30 days.

    You're right that it's not a "real backup", but honestly you aren't going to get most people to do a real backup with any consistency. Cloud backup of a documents folder is a useful stopgap.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @12:34PM (#45829777)

    Excuse the language and the caps, but... SERIOUSLY? WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS DOING ON SLASHDOT?

    Is this site called "News For Nerds, Stuff that Matters" or "Site that links to trivial shitadvice you sent to your computer-illiterate parents if you do not want to talk to them yourself about it?"

    What was the person who submitted this thinking? What was the editor who put it here was thinking? Are we getting trolled by one or the two? A lot of questions we will not find an answer to, simply because it does not exist. Slashdot, are we ending the year with a total low, are we?

  • Re:NSA (Score:5, Informative)

    by CreatureComfort (741652) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @12:40PM (#45829885)
    Or just start out with SpiderOak [spideroak.com] to start with.
  • by kheldan (1460303) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @01:20PM (#45830371) Journal
    "The Cloud", frankly, sucks.

    The bandwidth of your Internet connection is a fraction of the bandwidth of a local storage device will be.
    "The Cloud", in spite of any encryption used, still puts your data at risk of snooping and theft even from the company providing the service.
    "Cloud" service providers aren't forever. Enjoy having one go out of business and take you data with it, or fall prey to hackers that trash your data.
    The NSA loves "The Cloud" because it makes their job of snooping that much easier for them.

    Just buy a USB hard drive and back up your important stuff to that then put it away in a safe place (safe deposit box at your bank if it's that important), or if it's small enough to burn to a DVD or Bluray disc, do that and store the disc(s) somewhere safe. Even USB flash drives come in sizes of hundreds of gigabytes and are not anywhere near as expensive as they used to be.
  • by WOOFYGOOFY (1334993) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @01:26PM (#45830443)

    Don't backup to the cloud anything of a personal nature such as itineraries, credit card and purchase receipts, anything with your identity in it or your address, anything of a business sensitive nature or related to sensitive health issues the list goes on and on, just anything that could be used by criminals to harm you or identify you or anyone you have documents concerning.

    The problem is, there's no reason to believe that the cloud storage corporations will be any more effective at guarding against intrusion and theft than Target or any of the other thousands of credit card data breaches that are occurring on a rolling basis.

    As soon as you outsource your disk drive to the cloud, you are giving thieves a view into something that would have no hope of viewing otherwise- everything on your computer.

    It's far too burdensome for most people to divide their hard drive folders into "potentially sensitive" and otherwise. It's not how people think or organize their drives and what's potentially sensitive is not well defined.

    A better way to achieve security is through a couple common external hard drives, (make a back up of your back up with the second one). Using very modestly priced or even free backup software that's scheduled to wake the computer and run (Seagate gives free backup software with some their external disk drives) will give you all the data redundancy you need and if you use a back up once a week to an encrypted drive (Samsungs SDD are both hardy to drops and shocks- no moving parts and come automatically encrypted) that spends the rest of its time *somewhere else* (work, a friends or relative's house house) then you've safeguarded against fire and natural disaster with at most a week's lost data.

    I made a chart that details all the different ways that you can lose data or have it compromised and effective responses to them. unfortunately I can't post it here but I can list the threats . The ones in bold have actually happened to me and resulted in significant data loss. The arrows point to countermeasures. They are
    multiple physical external drives, multiple storage locations for drives, versioned backups on all backup drives , different power lines (internal cables) for each internal drive, surge protection , encryption.

    Maybe no one is likely to do all these, OTOH with just two external and one internal drives you could and if it's automated there is no hassle. It's looks more complicated than it is. Also for small valuable files, you could use multiple cheap USB drives and keep them at different locations, encrypting each.

    Backup plan:

    accidental overwrite during backup --> versioned backups, multiple disk backups

    accidental overwrite during editing --> backups generally

    drive failure --> multiple disk backups

    lost drive --> encryption

    virus / spying --> encryption

    power surge / misbehaving power supply lines --> different power lines for internal backup drives, surge protection for external backup drives

    lightening,--> surge protections, multiple physical locations

    fire, natural disaster--> multiple physical locations

    break in, theft--> multiple physical locations, encryption

    HTH

All this wheeling and dealing around, why, it isn't for money, it's for fun. Money's just the way we keep score. -- Henry Tyroon

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