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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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  • Slashdot (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @12:10PM (#45829437)

    News for noobs,
    Stuff that doesn't matter.

  • by slk (2510) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @12:11PM (#45829449)
    and you are going to have to support it, buy them either an iPad or a Chromebook.
  • Cloud != Backup (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Imagix (695350) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @12:15PM (#45829507)
    Augh! A mirrored folder to the cloud is _not_ backup! If you delete a file from the folder, that gets mirrored into the cloud so it's gone there too. If you overwrite a file in the mirrored folder, that gets mirrored to the cloud and it's changed there too. This is the same story as RAID drives. That's adding redundancy/resiliency. In the event of a failure of your local drive, yes, there's a second copy elsewhere. But in the event of "oops, I accidentally deleted a file I wanted to keep" you're out of luck.
  • Or Windows RT (Score:4, Insightful)

    by recoiledsnake (879048) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @12:16PM (#45829531)

    If they may need Office... a Windows RT machine is pretty good too and requires the same low level of support as iPad or Chromebook.

  • by perpenso (1613749) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @12:18PM (#45829561)
    Create a non-administrative account for yourself, not just your guests. You are a security problem too.
  • by Dzimas (547818) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @12:21PM (#45829593)
    Umm. Malwarebytes is a *removal* tool that doesn't offer real-time virus scanning. It's only useful after the machine is infected. It scares me when a "how-to" post has only 4 points, and one of them is so blisteringly wrong that it makes you suspect the OP doesn't actually know how to drive a computer.
  • My Personal Tip (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @12:22PM (#45829603)

    1) If you buy a new Win 8 laptop, immediately replace with your favorite Linux flavor. Don't even bother with dual boot.

    2) If you are unfamiliar with Linux or how to install it, then buy a Mac.

    3) Don't ask me for Win 8 support. I don't know. I don't want to know. Windows 8 is dead to me :)

  • by General Anders (3382601) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @12:33PM (#45829757)
    This reminds me of a computer tip that a non-computer savvy person will tell their non-computer savvy friends, who then end up calling tech support for a product that doesn't support their home setup, and then the person on the other end has to explain how real-life works (me). 1. Don't rely on an anti-virus program. Your primary defense is a. not being stupid (which is doing things like visiting pron sites, sites with tons of popups, etc), install noscript, and if you must, periodically install anti-virus and run a full scan. 2. Cloud isn't a backup. If you want a backup, spend a little bit of effort. If your stuff is important, back it up yourself. Use your brain and use redundancy if it's actually important to you. 3. Don't let pesky friends use your computer, especially unsupervised. You don't know what kind of sites they are going to visit and what malware they are going to install. 4. Never use system restore. Just backup your stuff, don't install malware (or "Free" programs that want to install themselves with your real programs) and don't follow horrible tips on slashdot (which I would have expected more of)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @12:36PM (#45829815)

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

    NO. Fuck off already. I never want to hear anyone suggesting/promoting "the cloud" again.

    "The cloud" is newspeak for "somebody else's computer".

  • Re:Slashdot (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JMJimmy (2036122) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @12:38PM (#45829853)

    Seriously, why is this on Slashdot - it's something that belongs on cnet.

    (1) If you don't want to pay for an anti-virus program, at least install a free one.
      - No, don't use any local anti-virus as it chews up more system resources than a lot of actual viruses do - use something like Panda Active Scan.

    (2) Save files to a folder that is automatically mirrored to the cloud, for effortless backups.
      - No, never trust cloud services for backups. Never trust cloud services period the only reason to use them is convenience

    (3) Create a non-administrator guest account, in case a friend needs to borrow the computer.
      - No, if a friend needs to use your computer then you need to monitor their use at all times, otherwise, hand them a tablet.

    (4) Be aware of your computer's System Restore option as a way of fixing mysterious problems that arose recently."
      - "mysterious problems"... riiiiiight. Since this is referring to system restore and new laptops they likely mean Windows machines which means Windows 8 in which case you want to use System Refresh before you ever want to try System Restore.

  • Mod -1, obsolete (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Simon Brooke (45012) <stillyet@googlemail.com> on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @12:44PM (#45829929) Homepage Journal

    If you're buying a laptop for anyone competent, they won't be running Windows on it (or if the do, it's their problem). If you're buying a laptop for anyone incompetent, they shouldn't be running Windows on it. Patching a hopelessly insecure operating system with anti-virus and other bloatware is so twentieth century. Chrome OS [wikipedia.org] is a far better solution for non-technical users.

  • by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @12:46PM (#45829955) Homepage

    I asked her - "So you have a phone, acting like a computer, that you want to install software on so it will act like a phone?"

    Hey, if your data plan on your phone is cheaper than your minutes on your phone, why not?

    If people didn't want Skype on their phones, they wouldn't be making it.

    And, really, modern day phones are every bit full fledged computers -- they just also happen to be phones. I'm betting her current S4 outperforms/outclasses the 386's she started with in pretty much every regard from CPU speed to storage.

    Hell, I strongly suspect that most cell phones nowadays would have been classed as 'supercomputers' not even 25 years ago. The line between phone and computer has blurred so much, and since you can install software which pretty much does everything, I fail to see why a cell phone isn't a computer these days. It sure meets any definition I saw in school.

    They're all Turing complete, and with general purpose instruction sets.

  • Re:Slashdot (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lumpy (12016) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @01:13PM (#45830279) Homepage

    Lightning strikes can fry stuff that is unplugged and in a closet. Had a lightning strike destroy a laptop that was still sealed in the box from dell. EMP's are a harsh mistress when they strike 20 feet from your house.

    But I have something that guarantees safety from even a direct lightning strike....

    Insurance.

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @01:19PM (#45830365) Homepage

    If your mom is that much of an evil person, just stay away, you will be happier.

  • by fisted (2295862) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @01:20PM (#45830373)

    If you don't have antivirus, you shouldn't have a computer.

    Someone above said:

    Editors, please stop pandering to the lowest common denominator end user who will never read Slashdot anyhow

    Now here's living proof that there /are/ such people on slashdot after all, seeing this one even thinks Windows and computers are someone the same.

  • Re:Better idea (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lazere (2809091) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @01:59PM (#45830765)

    I always get them to buy good quality computer protection software like Norton 360

    You lost all credibility with this sentence...

  • Dear Timothy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kumanopuusan (698669) <<goughnourc> <at> <gmail.com>> on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @02:09PM (#45830853)

    Please stop approving Bennet "stories." He's a Roland Junior that everyone loves to hate. You're tech savvy, aren't you? Surely you know this submission is some pretty rank tripe.

    TYVM HAHNY

  • Re:Slashdot (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tompaulco (629533) on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @02:52PM (#45831283) Homepage Journal

    Also, never let someone else use your computer, period.

    Exactly. My wife is complaining about her laptop being slow and popups and things telling her she needs to download something to fix her computer. I pointed out how I use MY computer probably 10 hours a day, including surfing the net. I literally have no AV running. I have had not one problem. Well, okay, I had one. My stepson used it for about 15 minutes one day, and then I had to spend about an hour uninstalling an unwanted browser toolbar that kept reinstalling itself.
    She let's the kids use her computer, and so there is all kinds of crapware running on it.

  • Re:Slashdot (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tlhIngan (30335) <slashdot@wor f . n et> on Tuesday December 31, 2013 @08:22PM (#45833741)

    I should expand on this:

    Lazy way: Buy a single USB Key to backup essential data - attach it to your key chain so that as long as you are safe it should be too (not recommended for those who lose their keys a lot)

    Slightly less lazy way: Encrypt said data and have 2 USB keys with the same data, store them in different places/ways.

    Serious way: Buy a security deposit box and 2 hardware encrypted USB keys. Store 1 in the box and use the 2nd as your "active backup" - switch them out every 30 days or so so the most you stand to lose is 30 days worth of data.

    Hardcore way: Hardcopy everything and store offsite.

    USB key can be substituted for a proper external harddrive if data storage levels require it but I don't recommend trying to put the harddrive on your key chain.

    Why are techies so out of touch with The Real World(tm)?

    Unless you're visiting your parents/friends/cousins/etc houses on a weekly basis (not a bad idea), then guess what? USB keys will back up once. Honest truth - users will not lift a finger to back up. If it doesn't happen automatically, or requires manual intervention, it will not happen. It's a chore, and unless you do it regularly for them, it will not happen.

    I'm sure everyone's run across the "can you restore a file for me? I have backups!" only to find the backups ended a year ago because they "would do it next week".

    To be honest, the cloud backups are probably spyware, but they're also convenient. They don't do a single thing, and it's there. Their PC die? Well, their documents are patiently waiting on Dropbox, Skydrive, GDrive, whatever. Hell, set up OwnCloud on your own server farm and set up the client on your parents PC so it backs up there.

    You think these tips suck? To be honest, they're basic, and really, they're also geared for the real world. Computers are meant to automate boring tasks. Why are we forced to do stuff the computer can do automatically?

    Or do you really think that companies like Apple are all marketing? They understand the real world - that's why they do stuff like Time Machine - a simple, quiet, out of the way backup mechanism! Or auto-save, working on Time Machine that lets you go back to an earlier revision of a document, view it, copy and paste, etc,?

    You know, Microsoft made an excellent backup product - called Windows Home Server. Backs up the network nightly, does de-dupe, images every machine, etc. Silent, runs in the background, even wakes the machine to backup. Alas, it's discontinued, but it is one of the best things around - it just works.

    And anyone worried about NSA or "not owning the data" as an excuse to not have an automated backup plan? Guess what - which is worse - telling your parents/kids/etc that they should've taken the effort while you sit there trying to recover the data manually spending hours, or just retrieving the file for them? You can lecture all about the NSA as you want, and it'll fall on deaf ears.

    Users won't backup unless it happens automatically. Users will also let others use their PCs. That's the real world and anyone who says otherwise hasn't worked in a real IT department. Users are way too clever. If you ban use of thumb drives, they will either use cloud storage to share files, the file server will fill up with useless crap (intermixed with vital project information and somehow required for production), or users will send emails of the files around.

    Hell, you probably think Android's permission system is "pretty cool" when in fact, it's a perfect example of dancing pigs [wikipedia.org] security. I.e., it's insecurity at its finest. Unless you're a techie. Which I can bet the vast majority of the 80% of Android users are not. Hell, I'm sure most of them think Android is an iPhone with pirated apps.

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