And then, of course, comes the lecture. You've been through all the nooks and crannies, you've blown out our fans and backed up our hard drives, you've cleaned up your registries and defragged, and even set timers for all this stuff in case it turns out to be less fun -- or memorable -- than I've made it seem. (Imagine your computer's upkeep utilities as a digital Mary Poppins, cleaning up the whole place with an electronic snap of her fingers!)
But none of that is going to help you if you walk right into the same old digital traps. Hygiene and preventive care are fine for mistakes, but that's only assuming you don't go looking for trouble. Music downloads, the Petri dish of peer-to-peer sharing, malware sites you didn't even mean to open, e-mail forwards from your kindly aunt, or well-disguised Trojan horse e-mails: They all happen to the best of us, whether or not we know what we're doing.
That's why you still need to take these threats seriously. There is no installable antivirus program available to protect you from yourself. That means being smart about torrents, downloads, adult sites and file sharing programs, but also taking advantage of protections that are already built into your computer and other programs.
Your browser has safety settings that have nothing to do with content and everything to do with suspicious code -- in fact, some more progressive browsers will even throw up a gateway before you reach some sites, just to make sure it's a trustworthy place to be. If you download a song or movie file and it tells you to download a new plug-in or codec, go get those things yourself instead of simply clicking "yes." Stay away from warez, cracks and serial number generators or downloaders -- all of those are potential danger zones. And most of all, make sure that anybody using your computer is either aware of the dangers, or that you've put measures in place to keep it safe. A lot of us can be confident about our savvy on these topics, but that doesn't extend to other folks using your machine.
In the end, knowledge really is power. But just because you shouldn't be afraid of your computer doesn't mean you shouldn't be wary of jerks, pet hair, or the million other things that could slow down your fun.