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.
Author's Note: 5 Everyday Things You Can Do to Keep Your Computer Healthy
I don't know about you, but I only tend to think about things like defragmenting or doing virus checks when I'm already past deadline or otherwise frustrated -- it's easier to blame my computer's performance than my own poor time management skills! Luckily, running a quick scan or deleting old files is a great way to clear out the computer and take my mind off deadlines as they go whizzing past, all at the same time. I read a lot of reviews for different free error-check and antivirus programs, but for my personal use -- and I've never had a problem in 15 years of often risky business -- I prefer CC Cleaner and Spybot Search & Destroy (sites noted below).
- 6 Easy Ways to Keep Your Computer Cool Without Using Electricity
- How does a computer's Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) work?
- Top 5 Computer How-To Videos
- How To Keep Your Laptop Cool
- How to Defrag Your Hard Drive
- How to Avoid Spyware
- 10 Commandments for Keeping Your Windows 7 Computer Running Smoothly
More Great Links
- Gordon, Whitson. "How to Back Up Your Computer". Lifehacker, June 2011. (Sept. 21, 2012) http://lifehacker.com/5816453/how-to-back-up-your-computer
- Ho, Erica. "How to Prevent Your Computer from Overheating (and Why It's Important)". Lifehacker, June 2010. (Sept. 21, 2012) http://lifehacker.com/5570909/how-to-prevent-your-computer-from-overheating-and-why-its-important
- Howlett, Glenn. "What is the best antivirus software?" PC World Australia, Mar 2011. (Sept. 21, 2012) http://www.pcworld.idg.com.au/article/381521/what_best_antivirus_software_/
- Javali, Zahid H. "Tips for Buying a UPS". PC Mech, Oct. 2007. (Sept. 21, 2012) http://www.pcmech.com/article/tips-for-buying-a-ups/
- Johnson, Dave. "Pick the Right Size UPS for Your PC, Avoid Catastrophe When the Power Fails". CBS News, July 2009. (Sept. 21, 2012) http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505143_162-28644399/pick-the-right-size-ups-for-your-pc-avoid-catastrophe-when-the-power-fails/
- Mac Xperts. "UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply): How to Choose the Right UPS". The Mac Xperts Blog, Apr 2010. (Sept. 21, 2012) http://www.themacxperts.com/blog/files/4aa04d20befb92af9d7db54e376d4ad2-30.html
- Mediati, Nick. "Free Antivirus You Can Trust". PC World, Apr 2012. (Sept. 21, 2012) http://www.pcworld.com/article/254121/free_antivirus_you_can_trust.html
- Muchmore, Michael. "Disaster-Proof Your Data with Online Backup". PC Magazine, 30 Mar 2012. (Sept. 21, 2012) http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2288745,00.asp
- Pot, Justin. "The 10 Best Free Anti-Virus Programs". MakeUseOf, Apr 2010. (Sept. 21, 2012) http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/ten-best-antivirus-programs/
- Rubenking, Neil J. "The Best Antivirus for 2012". PC Magazine, Aug 2012. (Sept. 21, 2012) http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2372364,00.asp
Supercomputers are getting backing from the White House. Learn more about supercomputers in the U.S. at HowStuffWorks Now.