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Computer Security 101 - Keeping PC healthy and cleanFollow

#1 Mar 15 2011 at 10:53 PM Rating: Excellent
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Computer security basics – How to keep your computer healthy, happy, and safe for online gaming

This guide is intended to give you a basic overview of what you need to keep yourself from getting hacked or infected while online. We’re going to take everything from the beginning basics, down to the more advanced topics, in easy fully explained steps. Our goal is to show you what you need to be safe, but also to help you understand each aspect of the process and technologies we will be looking at. The end result if you follow our advice will be a computer that never needs to worry about viruses or hackers.

Security basics:
The first step to securing your environment is to take a look at what you have, your computer environment, network equipment, etc. For our purposes, we are going to assume you are running a PC with a windows operating system of some sort, and have high speed internet rather than a dial up modem.

In the simplest high speed connections, you have a DSL or Cable modem sitting somewhere in your house, with a network cable running from that modem to your computer.

Your Internet Service Provider (or ISP) issues an IP address to your modem. This address is kind of like a house address, or a phone number. Anyone who knows or can guess that number can contact you, and you provide that number to others when you contact them.

The advantage to this connection over previous dial up types is the instant, always on internet. The primary disadvantage however, is that it is also an always on, instantly available pipeline directly from the internet to your computer. A nefarious individual with the right knowledge can, depending on several other factors, theoretically hijack your computer. If you think of it in terms of your home, the internet is the street, your cable modem is your driveway and the path to your house, and your computer is the interior of your house. What we need is a sturdy and secure door between the inside of your house and the outside world that we control.

Your passwords: Passwords are important. They are just like the keys to your house, or your car. You want to pick something that would not be easy for someone else to guess, and you never, ever want to share your password with anyone.
You will want to have several passwords. Even better, a different password for every site, but that gets difficult to remember, and then people start writing things down and that’s even worse because someone could find that list and then they don’t even have to guess. What works for me is several passwords. I keep a few really complex ones for things like game accounts and financial information, and a couple less secure ones for things I access frequently but would not impact me in the least if they were ever hacked, such as my junk e-mail account.
The Ideal password would be a random string of letters and numbers and symbols, something like “fkljWjol83^*&%*124” A string like that is difficult to remember, so a good compromise is to try and think of something important to you, that other people would not easily guess. Studies have shown that the following password components are most often used, so ideally you would want to avoid them:

  • Mothers maiden name
  • Birthdates of yourself or spouses / kids / anniversaries
  • Names of pets, kids, spouse
  • Character / server / game city / game race etc data

A good potential initial password would be something like the name of your favorite car with some numbers and letters added in, or the city your favorite landmark is in, with the vowels replaced by numbers, etc. You will also want to rotate through passwords every few months.
If you want to check the strength of a particular password you are contemplating using, make a second, similar password (not the actual one you intend to use!!!) and check the strength here: https://www.microsoft.com/security/pc-security/password-checker.aspx?WT.mc_id=Site_Link
Longer passwords are almost always better, since they take longer for a potential hacker to attack via a brute force “check every possible password” method. A 4 character password for example would take roughly an hour for any computer to crack. A 9 character password on the other hand would likely take several years.

The Router:
A computer router is your first line of defense against the bad guys. There are many makes and models of routers, with many features, but the simplest types consist of a box with 1 incoming network port and 4 outgoing network ports, that sits between your cable/DSL modem and your computer. Inside this box there is a very simple computer whose sole purpose is to look at incoming and outgoing network traffic, and make sure that the only thing that gets to your computer are things that you invite. This is known as a Hardware Firewall, and it is the single most important piece of computer equipment you own. Many people only get them so they can plug more than one computer into a cable/DSL modem, but you should own one even if you have only a single computer.

For example, most routers assume that any link you click on in a website goes to content that you want to see. You click, and a data signal (or “packet”) is sent out requesting that information be sent from the server to your computer. The router sees the request and sees that the incoming data was provided in response to your request, so it happily allows it through.

But what about the bad guys? Maybe some hacker somewhere decides he wants to check your computer for credit card numbers. He sends a packet demanding access to your computer, but your trusty router sees that you didn’t request that incoming information, so it blocks the request entirely.

Those of course are vastly simplified examples of the functions of your typical router. Routers can also be configured to hide your computer or anything else behind the firewall of your router. Anyone who tries to access your IP address will only see your router. You can also use a router to redirect network traffic to different numerical channels, or “ports”, or block certain types of traffic entirely.
Many routers also include wireless network antennas. These an make it much easier to get internet throughout your house, but can also be a security problem. Always make sure you are using a wireless password with your router. We will cover wireless security and passwords more in depth later in this article though.

Choosing a router:
When choosing a router, you don’t necessarily need one with every bell and whistle under the sun, but you do want to try and get a newer model from a reputable company. I tend to prefer Linksys or Netgear. D-link is also a good choice. I have never personally had good luck with Belkin routers. Belkin makes great cables, but lousy electronics.

You want a newer router because the hardware and firmware are more likely to be up to date. An older WRT54G Linksys wireless router will still work, but some of the oldest lack features that offer additional protection, particularly for wireless connections. If possible, get a router with Gigabit Ethernet ports. It won’t make your internet any faster, but it will likely make transferring files between multiple computers much faster for you, and these days doesn’t cost much more than the standard.

If you want wireless features, ensure you get a router that supports wireless N. A wireless N router will also support wireless B and G for backwards compatibility and is a faster, stronger signal which is less likely to interfere with wireless phones, or to be knocked off the air by a poorly placed microwave oven.

So I have a router, what now:
Routers are great doorways, but the problem with them is they are very simple. There are methods of tricking even very secure routers into passing data. If an attacker knows enough about your computer, he can create a false packet that will look perfectly legitimate to a router, and it will send it on through. Of greater concern though is that a router doesn’t know if the content you requested is legitimate. If you specifically click on a link to a file containing a virus, it will believe you really wanted that file, and send you that file containing a virus. If your computer somehow gets infected with a virus, the router will send any traffic out that the virus requests. Routers are great at doing what they are designed to do, but they are not enough by themselves to keep your computer secure. We need to look at the computer itself.

The operating system:
The first line of defense on the computer side is keeping your computer operating system patched and up to date. If you are running windows XP, this means running Service Pack 3, with all the other patches. Vista is on Service Pack 2 now, and the new Windows 7 has service pack 1.
If you are running XP still, there are several fundamental security issues that XP doesn’t address, and you should really strongly consider upgrading to windows 7. The biggest of these issues is the “browser sandbox” Windows XP was designed to give internet browsers a high degree of connectivity with the computer. Unfortunately, the way this was implemented gave browsers of all types access to the core of the operating system. If something is able to bypass defenses, it can do some real damage to the system. Under windows Vista and Windows 7, browser activity still has the same level of connectivity, but all activity is contained inside a “sandbox” where the browser can play, but not do any real damage to system files. This sandbox is purged every time you close the browser. If something nasty gets through, closing the browser will usually eliminate it. For that reason alone, you should upgrade from XP.

Windows update:
The second you get a new computer, the first thing you do once you have it online should be to go to update.microsoft.com and download all the available critical and security updates for your computer. Security updates won’t block every attack vector, but they make 90% of the ones out there fail to work by themselves. An unpatched computer might as well not even bother with antivirus protection.

The browser:
You have several choices in internet browser, and there are many different arguments. Many people prefer Firefox due to the security ad ins you can install. Some people prefer Google Chrome. Or Opera, or Safari. Others prefer Internet explorer.
The real truth is that the choice of browser you make doesn’t matter. They all have exploitable security holes, and new holes are discovered as soon as the old ones are patched. This isn’t due to bad coding or design, its just the nature of the software. You have to balance between connectivity and protection, and the Internet browser isn’t really equipped to be the main protection point of your system. So pick one you like and design your protection accordingly. Also remember to remove any toolbars or browser helpers that you aren’t using.

Java, flash and Quicktime:
Most computers on the planet have Java and Adobe Flash installed. Many also have apple Quicktime installed. These three programs are the most likely security hole vectors into your system if they are not patched. To patch adobe flash, go to Adobe.com and run the updater. You will want to grab the latest Adobe Acrobat Reader while you are there. Quicktime can be updated from quicktime.com

Java can be updated from java.com, but be aware that old versions of java software are not removed during the update. You need to remove them manually from the “add remove programs” or “programs and features” section of control panel.

Other programs to keep updated:
There are usually about half a dozen internet connected utilities on a computer. Many of them get installed in pieces with other programs. Keeping them installed can be a nightmare manually. So I recommend using the free Secunia Personal Security Inspector program http://secunia.com/vulnerability_scanning/personal/

It basically is windows update for all of your non-Microsoft software. After your windows patches, this is one of the most critical updates you can do for your computer. You can run it every so often, or leave it running all the time. It doesn’t take very many system resources, especially in this day of 4GB or more of ram being common.

So I have a Router, and my system is patched. Now what?:
The last thing you need to do to protect your computer is to look at virus and spyware protection and prevention. There are a variety of different programs and systems available out there. Some are free, some cost money. Some work best alone on a system, some work best in conjunction with several other utilities. You have to be careful to provide the most protection possible, while at the same time not bogging down your system, or even worse, having two competing antivirus systems that wrestle for dominance on your PC and end up rendering themselves both useless.

Software firewall:
With our router we installed earlier, we have a hardware firewall, but that firewall has some limitations. A Software firewall in addition to a hardware firewall can be a potent solution. While the hardware firewall is just concerned with traffic, a software firewall can also detect which specific programs and processes on the computer are allowed to send and receive data. Windows comes with a built in software firewall which works fairly well. There are many others out there. But a firewall program isn’t enough by itself. The built in windows firewall is pretty good, but there are better alternatives out there.

After your router, your antivirus program is the most important piece of security software you own. I find that when it comes to antivirus software, you get what you pay for. There are free antivirus solutions, such as AVG (http://free.avg.com/us-en/homepage) or Microsoft Security Essentials (http://www.microsoft.com/security_essentials/) which are better than no protection, but the ones that consistently perform best and are most reputable are Symantec Antivirus or MacAfee antivirus. Those both require subscriptions, and are only a form of protection for as long as that security subscription is in place. An expired antivirus is worse than no antivirus.

I tend to prefer Symantec. Specifically Norton Internet Security which combines their antivirus, antispyware and firewall all into one package. At $70 a year, some people find the price a bit high.

Some people claim that antivirus software is a waste of system resources. You’ve heard them, “I never go to bad websites so I’ll never get a virus” or “antivirus software eats so much resources it isn’t worth it” etc. These people are idiots, and you should shun them. While 10 years ago both those statements might have been true, nowadays virus programs are more sophisticated than ever and more insidious. You don’t even have to load a browser to get infected anymore. There are literally massive armies of “zombie” computers in the world whose sole purpose of existence is to propagate themselves, and they do so by sending out copies of their infection code to random IP addresses that aren’t protected. Most antivirus software takes up less than 30 MB of ram space while running. That’s 30 MB of the 3,300 MB or more ram space commonly available on most computers.

An active virus on your computer takes up far more than 30 MB worth of ram.

Most antivirus programs classify spyware and adware as a separate type of problem. Macafee has an antispyware module separate from its antivirus module for additional cost. AVG covers some spyware but not all. Norton internet Security has a decent antispyware module, but all of them can do with a bit of help. The following antispyware programs are useful to have

Malwarebytes is a very useful antispyware scanner. It won’t prevent a spyware infection unless you pay for the full version, but the free version is very good at removing existing infections that might slip through.

Spybot Search and destroy:
Spybot is a spyware cleaner, but it also protects against infections. It has several features, such as a registry settings backup, a browser settings change preventer, and blocking rules that prevent several thousand known bad spyware detection files from even entering your system

Javacool Spywareblaster:
Spywareblaster doesn’t actually remove any spyware, it simply acts as another firewall level to keep known bad websites and spywares blocked from ever interacting with your PC in the first place. The free version lacks auto update capability.

Hijackthis is a very powerful, and very dangerous program if you don’t know what you are doing with it. Often times people will ask for hijackthis log files to try and detect remnants of a virus or spyware. Don’t use this unless you are fairly computer savvy or are under the guidance of someone who is, as you could theoretically disable important pieces of your system with it, requiring an operating system reload.

Sophos antirootkit
If your computer is behaving oddly, but you can’t seem to find any viruses, there is a rare type of malicious program called a “rootkit” that basically exists to give viruses and other malware direct access to the secure root command structure of your computer. Chances are you don’t have a rootkit, but if you seem to have odd computer behaviors and all else fails, that’s a good scan.
There are plenty of others. Those, in conjunction should clean 99% of the malware out there.

Hosts files:
You can also manually block ads, spyware, etc with the computers built in hosts file. For instructions, example files, and pre populated “block everything” hosts files, see here: http://www.mvps.org/winhelp2002/hosts.htm
Please note that overloading your hosts file can slow your browser down. If you try a large hosts file and things get too slow, revert back.

Cleaning an infected PC - The advanced class
So, by this point in the document, you have a clean, 100% fully patched system with no outdated software, no security holes, and no potential problems. But what do you do if you are starting from an already infected state? Or your friend / neighbor / cousins PC is infected? How do you deal with that?

The first question you need to ask yourself, is do you have enough computer knowledge to attempt this safely. If there is any doubt, get someone who does to at least walk you through the first couple.

There are several methods to cleaning an infected PC. The easiest, and most destructive is of course format the hard drive, nuke it from orbit, and reload the entire operating system. Chances are, if you have never cleaned a PC before, this is going to be your safest, and quickest option. The problem comes with any files that are already on that pc that are important to the owner. Even then, if there are just a few documents and pictures and whatnot, its still easier to manually clean those individual files and reload the computer. If you have your heart set on cleaning the PC, and not just formatting it though, here’s the quickest way to go.

Kaolian’s 12 step program to clean an infected computer.

1. Have a known good, fully patched fully protected 100% antivirus protected PC with all the antispyware tools listed above already loaded on it. If you do not have a second PC to try this with, do not attempt to clean the infected PC. Its not worth your time.

2. Buy a 4GB+ flash drive and back up any important documents, pictures, audio, movies, etc to that drive. Chances are they are infected, we will clean them later. Copy them, and set this aside with a label warning people that it is infected. Also purchase a decent antivirus program for your infected PC. No you cant just use what is already on there.

3. Remove the primary operating system drive from the infected PC, and install it in the known good computer as a secondary hard drive. Now boot into safe mode (by pressing F8 during startup and selecting “safe mode with networking)

4. Run every scan you have available on the known good computer. Malwarebytes, your antivirus, spybot, etc. Run them all and purge anything infected that they find.

5. Reboot into normal mode, and run all the scans again. If nothing else shows up, shut down that PC and insert the infected drive back into the infected computer. Now run a full system scan on the known good computer just to make sure nothing transferred.

6. Start the infected PC, and download and install the following free antivirus and antimalware software: Malwarebytes anti malware (http://www.malwarebytes.org/ ), Trendmicro hijackthis(http://download.cnet.com/Trend-Micro-HijackThis/3000-8022_4-10227353.html ), microsoft security center (http://www.microsoft.com/security/default.aspx ) , Spybot search and destroy (http://www.safer-networking.org/en/index.html ), and Javacool spyware blaster (http://www.javacoolsoftware.com/spywareblaster.html )

7. Reboot the infected computer computer in safe mode with networking by pressing the “F8” key from startup. Run malwarebytes first to see if it can kill anything. Now, run Hijackthis and keep the log file. We may need it later. In the mean time, run secuity center and spybot, and let them clean anything they find., Next, run javacool spywareblaster, which doesn't really cure any spyware, it just hard blocks known bad sites. After all that, if you can, go to http://housecall.trendmicro.com and run the free online virus scanner. Reboot the computer and load windows normally

8. At this point, load internet explorer, go into tools, options and reset all settings to factory default if it will let you. Then try to go to update.microsoft.com and download any patches available for your operating system.

9. next, go download the free Secunia PSI program (http://secunia.com/vulnerability_scanning/personal/ ) , let it scan, and patch any security vulnerabilities it finds.

10. If the clean procedure to this point was successful, it should be safe to install your new antivirus program. If you are still getting virus indications, you have bigger problems and are going to need a specialist to resolve them, or a reformat. Install antivirus, patch, and let it run a full system scan.

11. If the scans come up clean on the antivirus program, rerun all the programs we installed above (except javacool spyware blaster) and see if they find any profile specific remnants.

12. If after all that it comes up clean, Celebrate! It’s fixed! You’ll also want to take this opportunity to ensure that all the drivers, bios, firmware, etc are updated.

Any questions? Post them here!

Edited, Mar 28th 2019 5:49am by Szabo Lock Thread:
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#2 Mar 16 2011 at 6:01 AM Rating: Decent
what best software can you recommend to keep my pc healthy?

what best registry cleaner can you recommend also?

i think may computer is not clean but it is not slow though-,,

where can if find free anti virus but good in cleaning?

why is my netbook laptop slow but it has a registry cleaner and anti virus already installed there?

Edited, Mar 16th 2011 12:52pm by Pikko
#7 May 08 2011 at 5:46 AM Rating: Excellent
9,391 posts
I'd also recommend SUPERAntiSpyware as a useful, free Anti-Spyware program. I would suggest using it for scanning purposes only though, as the real time protection is relatively pointless(and a bit of a system hog) if you already have decent protection from an anti-virus or other anti-malware programs.
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#8 Jun 04 2011 at 6:55 PM Rating: Excellent
29,919 posts
A couple of clarification points from the virus scan method above:

1. What is the point of putting the hard drive in a second machine? Don’t we just risk infecting that PC instead?

When you start a computer, programs and files on the primary boot partition automatically run and start up. Usually, unless something has been written into the computer to start a program or service on a secondary drive, programs on that second drive won’t boot. By placing the drive in that known good computer, none of the viruses onboard have a chance to actually start up, because the changes made by the infection are in the other copy of the operating system, not your good PC. By preventing the virus from loading, we disable its protection methods. It can’t defend itself. There is a small amount of risk to the known good PC, but there is the same amount of risk just from that PC being on the same router segment as the infected PC, and I feel it is a worthwhile risk and one that should save you literally hours upon hours of rebooting and rerunning scans to peel back the layers of a virus infection.

2. How do I clean that 4GB flash drive I set aside at the beginning that has the infected files on it?

I kind of forgot about that, didn’t I? Basically once you are all done cleaning and patching your infected computer, plug the drive back in to the now clean computer, and immediately run scans on it. That should render the data safe.

Computer maintenance

In addition to the purely security topics we covered in the first post, there are several topics we can cover regarding keeping your data safe from hardware failure, overheating, and also ensuring your computer runs as fast as it possibly can. This portion of the document will cover those topics.

Backing up your data.

90 percent of all computers on the planet do not currently have any kind of backup for the precious data on their hard drives. Your music collection, Juniors baby photos, etc., it all disappears, usually permanently, if you don’t have another copy somewhere else. Hard drives last on average 5 years. The bearings inside a standard hard drive being the thing that usually eventually fails. Sometimes sooner, sometimes later. We like to say in IT, keep your data backed up for When, not if, your hard drive fails. Keeping things backed up manually though is hard. It takes time, you have to remember to do it every so often, sometimes things get lost while copying them, etc. The good news is that most computers these days have the capability to easily, and cheaply add backup capacity.

Setting up backup hardware
The first thing you need to figure out when planning your backup system, is what do you have inside your computer currently. If you have a laptop, or a desktop computer from Dell or HP, or an older desktop, chances are you have only a single hard drive, or possibly a boot (operating system) hard drive and a single data drive. If someone built your computer, or if you built your own computer fairly recently, your motherboard probably has extra hard drive SATA ports, and your case most likely has extra hard drive bays. In the latter case, really all you have to do is buy a few extra drives. In the case of a laptop, etc, you will need a bit of extra hardware.

Enter the mirror
The easiest, and cheapest way to make sure your data is backed up, is to make sure it exists on more than one hard drive at any given time. To do this, we utilize a technology built into most hard drive controllers called RAID 1 Mirroring. In a raid 1 mirror array, you have two hard drives that are linked together as a single disk. The way a mirror works, when you save your cookierecipies.docx file to a folder location on that drive, that file simultaneously writes to both drives. When you later delete it, it deletes from both drives. Raid 1 mirrors take two, lets say 500GB drives, and makes it show up inside windows as a single 500GB drive. If you were to pull one of the drives out and hit it with a hammer until it became a paperweight, all your data would still be completely intact on that other drive, and when you put a new drive in to replace the dead one, in a few hours, all the data on the single good drive would automatically copy back over to the new blank drive, ensuring it still exists.

A backup solution for laptops, older computers, and computers without internal hard drive bays. (if you have a newer desktop with internal hard drive bays, skip down to that section below)

A laptop isn’t going to usually have a good spot to stick a second hard drive in, and laptop drives are even more fragile than normal desktop drives, so its even more important to have a good backup solution. So, what we need to do is add external storage. The following is one possible setup, utilizing the least expensive hardware I can find. (Dislaimer: I used Newegg links as examples, since they usually have decent prices and show specifications and pictures of the hardware. You likely will be able to find this, or similar hardware cheaper elsewhere if you shop around)

First, we need a pair of SATA hard drives. 1 terabyte (or 1,000 gigabytes) should be enough to get us by for now. A pair of western digital 1TB drives run $60 each, or $120 total at the moment. Larger drives run a bit more. You want to stick with at least a 7200 RPM hard drive. Those “green” low energy drives are cheaper and use less electricity, but they are sloooooowwwwww.


Next, we need something to put them in, that we can plug into our computer. In a multi computer house, you might want to consider something called a Network Attached Storage, or NAS device, but for our purposes we are going to go with a Raid 1 USB enclosure at $89


There are new USB 3.0 enclosures at the same price point, and if you have a brand new laptop that supports USB 3.0, you should get one of those, but most computers won’t. There are also numerous other raid 1 enclosures out there, and many other options. Shop around and find one you like. I've used this one before though and it works well.

I got my parts, now what?
All you have to do next is ***** the drives into their drive trays, set the hardware settings to “Raid 1” mode on the enclosure (follow the instructions that come with it, its pretty simple), insert both drives, plug in the power, then plug the USB cable into the drive and your computer. At this point windows will detect a new drive, it may ask you to format it, and you are done!

Raid 1 inside a newer desktop computer (if you have a laptop or an older PC and can’t add internal drives, assuming you read the laptop section above, skip this section and go to “Setting up a filing system”

If you have a new shiny desktop computer (new gaming computer, etc) chances are you have a pair of SATA ports, power cables, and drive bays inside your computer already. If that’s the case, you can add a Raid 1 array by simply adding a pair of drives and configuring them in the controller. This process varies greatly depending on the motherboard you have, so this section is going to be a basic, high level overview. If you have questions about your specific configuration, let me know.

To start, we’ll need two hard drives. 1 terabyte (or 1,000 gigabytes) should be enough to get us by for now. A pair of western digital 1TB drives run $60 each, or $120 total at the moment. Larger drives run a bit more. You want to stick with at least a 7200 RPM hard drive. Those “green” low energy drives are cheaper and use less electricity, but they are sloooooowwwwww.


Depending on your computer, you may also have to buy 2 SATA cables. They run about $3 or so each.

Once we have the drives, with the computer off, power unplugged and the side panel open, you plug in the SATA cables into the motherboard and the drives, plug the 15 pin SATA power connector cables from your power supply into the drive (if you don’t have any extra, they do make 4 pin Molex (the 4 wire red, yellow and black connector adaptors). Make note of which motherboard ports you plugged the drives into, enable Raid mode inside of bios on those ports, then restart and press whatever key combination your computer takes to enter into the raid controller (for an intel controller, it’s usually Ctrl + I) and set up a new Raid 1 array. Then reboot, format the new drive inside windows, and you are done!
If that seems outside your skill set, you can use the external raid enclosure method listed above as well.

Setting up your filing system
So now that you have a shiny new backup drive, you want to take a moment and set up a good, easy to follow filing directory. Doing this now will save you lots of headaches down the road. I like to start by making folders for each of the things I will want on my backup drive. For example “Pictures” or “Music” or “documents”. From there, you can add additional folders for the people who will be using the computer, possibly a different folder for each year (F:\Pictures\Tims_folder\2011_Pictures for example). You don’t want to get to crazy with the folder name lengths, as there is an issue if you go longer than 256 characters for the entire path name, including the file name (the example Tims folder path above is already at 39 characters) but you get the general idea. It’s the computer equivalent of installing an organization system in your closet to keep your shoes tidy.

Backing up your boot (OS) drive
So you have a backup drive now, and your files and important documents on that drive are relatively safe. But what about your computer’s main drive, the operating system? All your saved game files??? Chances are your operating system is on a single drive as well, subject to the same failure rules and possibilities. The good news is that Microsoft has a solution for you.

Windows XP, Vista and 7 all have a built in backup utility. You may have to add it to Windows XP manually, but it is available on the disk. 7 and vista have it installed by default.

Rather than go over that process here, I’m going to let this handy video from Microsoft show you how it works. (For windows 7 and vista) http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows7/Back-up-your-files For XP you just get a dry boring text link instead. Sorry http://support.microsoft.com/kb/308422

Once you have that figured out, the real question is what do you really need to back up? If you have space, backing up the entire C:\ drive onto your backup drive never hurts, and you should probably do at least one “full” backup, but realistically, for a day to day backup you want to only back up the files and data you really need. Otherwise your computer will be bogged down trying to back up data that you don’t really need to restore, and frankly, if your computer fails entirely to the point you ever need to use your backup, its safer and cleaner to reinstall windows at that point anyways.

That being said, there are a few things you will want to back up:
1. Your user profile (Located at c:\Documents and settings\username under XP, or C:\Users\username under 7 or Vista) which contains your desktop, any of the files on your desktop, and theoretically most of your save games, program files, etc.
2. Your e-mail messages. If you use outlook express, AOL, or something similar, they will exist somewhere on your computer in a file. Look up where that file lives for the specific program you use and create a backup job using the information above if it is located outside your profile
3. Any specific game saves or program data files that are located in c:\Program files. You specifically don’t want the entire program (yes you can back up your entire WOW installation folder, the question is, should you? And the answer is no!). Just look for the files that change on a regular basis.
4. Anything else you have stored on C:\. Really, if you can, you should move your storage over to the backup drive anyways.

You could also build a computer with a Raid 1 operating system drive. The problem is that Raid 1 is slightly slower than a single drive by itself, and while its not noticeable on a data backup drive so much, you would notice it when trying to run programs from that drive. There are also other raid configurations that allow for a somewhat faster, still redundant, configuration (Raid 5, etc.) but that’s the advanced class, so we will not cover them here.

I have a backup of everything, but what if my computer explodes or my house burns?
The one downside to a backup solution located inside your computer, is it is vulnerable to the same damage your computer might be subject to. If you drop your backup drive / computer hard enough, both disks are dead, etc. The best way to get around this is to keep an occasional offsite manual backup, or set up some sort of offsite automatic backup to the “cloud”.

If you have friends or family in your area, you might just want to set up a data backup exchange. Every couple months, you give them a DVD, Blue ray disk, flash drive, external hard drive, whatever copy of your important files, that they store at their house somewhere, and they give you a copy of theirs. That way, if the house gets destroyed, etc, another one exists. A bank safe deposit box also works well for this purpose.

Data in the clouds
When you hear the term "cloud storage" or "cloud computing" all this means is that someone else ownes the hardware, and its sitting in some other physical location. This is good for our purposes, as we want a backup of our data located far away from our backup drive, just in case.

Setting up “Cloud” storage is fairly easy, but sometimes requires a monthly fee. Amazon.com has a good one, http://aws.amazon.com/s3/ which is free for the first year. Google Apps http://www.google.com/apps/intl/en/business/index.html also offers some free storage. Same with Microsoft, though theirs is in Beta. Once you have your storage, usually it’s a manual data upload process. There are soft wares and devices out there that can automate that, but they all cost money.

Cloud storage isn't perfect. You still have the occasional outage. In one really memorable case, T-mobile managed to delete their entire cloud storage repository mostly beyond recovery on accident. It shouldn't be your only backup, because you are relying on the skills and attentiveness of others, but it makes an excellent supplementary backup.

The multi computer household
If you have multiple computers, buying extra drives for each one may not be cost effective. In that case you may want to invest in a Network Attached Storage or NAS. It’s basically the external USB enclosure we talked about earlier, but instead of USB, a network cable plugs into the back. I personally use a Netgear ReadyNAS Duo. http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822122029 . A NAS has some advantages in that it can also act as a Music server to an Xbox or Ps3, etc.

Other hardware to keep your computer safe.
Almost everyone knows that plugging a high dollar gaming computer directly to a wall is the worst idea ever. Most people have at least a surge suppressor already, but computers also get really, really annoyed if you turn their power off without letting them shut down properly. When the power goes off, you need a device that will turn your computer off for you, automatically, whether you are home or not. That device is called a UPS, or an Uninterruptable Power Source. Basically, a UPS is a surge strip with a large battery attached to it. They come in different shapes, sizes and capabilities. The main manufacturers are APC and Cyberpower.

Sizing a UPS to your computer.
You will usually only plug your primary monitor, your cable modem and router, maybe your backup drive, and your computer itself into the battery backup ports of your UPS. Everything else, you really don’t need to power during an outage. You need enough electricity to give your computer time to shut down at a minimum. Even a laptop can make use of a UPS, though its less critical for a laptop since it has a battery.

A high end gaming PC needs a very large UPS. Something in the 1000 Va, 600 Watt range is appropriate. If the PC has a much larger Power supply than 600 watts, you will need to size accordingly, and they get very expensive very quickly. http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16842101421

For your average computer, something along the lines of this one at 450 watts and 700 Va will give you at least a few minutes for the system to power down: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16842101381
Laptops, and NAS devices can get by with the smallest units. http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16842101339

Once you have your UPS, you plug it into the wall, run a USB cable from the UPS to your computer, and install the software that comes with it. When the UPS detects that power has gone out, it closes any open programs, saves where possible, and then starts the shutdown process when its battery reserves get to around 10%, or whatever you specify. A UPS is also a surge protector.

Other maintenance tasks: Disk defragmentor
If you have a standard hard drive, chances are some of your files are fragmented. Now don’t be alarmed, this isn’t as bad as it sounds, but it does lead to lower computer performance. When your computer saves a file, it writes to a spinning metal disk inside the drive using magnetic spots, kind of like the pits on the bottom of an audio CD or a record. If there is enough space in the area it tries to write that file to, it writes the file as one long, continuous chain of spots. If there are other files in the way though, the computer drive just puts the rest of the file wherever else it can fit it, when a single file is written to more than one “place” on the computer, you have a fragmented file. Think of it this way: You have a house, but they didn’t have enough space on the lot to build it all, so they finished half of it on one side of the street, and half on the other. Every time you want to go from the bedroom to the kitchen, you have to walk all the way across the street, instead of just down the hallway. Your computer ends up doing the data equivalent of the same thing. To fix this, you have to run a disk defragmenter. Windows has a built in one at Start:programs:Accessories:system tools and then disk defragmenter. If you want a bit more performance, there are better utilities that will also defragment, and at the same time move the data that you use most often to the inner ring of the disk, which ends up being fastest to read. Diskeeper is a good example http://www.diskeeper.com/.

Soon though, when solid state computer hard drives become more common, you won’t ever have to defragment. A solid state drive doesn’t have any moving parts, so the fragmentation issue isn’t an issue because the computer doesn’t have to actually move something to get to the rest of your data. To use our house metaphor again, the house may still be half across the street, but the computer can now be in both places essentially at the same time.

Registry cleaners. Should I?
One of the more common threads you will see when people talk about speeding up a computer are registry cleaners. Some of the free ones, like CC cleaner http://www.piriform.com/ccleaner work, and generally do a good job cleaning up some things like temporary files and browser cookies, but as far as cleaning the registry itself, I personally feel that unless you really know what you are doing, cleaning anything in the registry is dangerous, unnecessary and will not usually improve performance. Many registry cleaners on the planet are actually capable of doing fairly significant damage to your operating system load, and can result in a less stable computer than you started with, and needing to reload the operating system.
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#9 Jul 01 2012 at 7:48 AM Rating: Decent
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I use Eset Smart Security.. just google Nod32.. imo its the best antivirus software out there!
#10 May 26 2015 at 10:40 PM Rating: Good
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