Tips for Safer Computing

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By Josh Harding, ABA Systems Administrator

The amount of data passing through a modern computer is truly remarkable, and for indie bookstores, this includes sensitive information such as credit card numbers and customer details as well as important communications and images such as event photos.

Small-business owners are in a uniquely vulnerable position as they are entrusted with other people’s information and tend to have more critical data on their computers, yet lack the dedicated resources of large businesses.

Here are a few simple ways to help keep sensitive information private and unique information safe while also improving the stability of your computer:

  • Password protect your computer and make sure it defaults to a password screen any time you’re not on it. The easiest way to steal information is by walking up to an open computer with a flash drive.

    Keep your computer locked! The physical security of your computer is paramount. Locking your computer when you walk away from it, whether it’s in the bookstore or at a coffee shop, is a valuable habit to get into. It’s very easy to do, especially on laptops, where you can typically just close the lid.

  • Watch that e-mail! It’s easy to automatically trust an e-mail that arrives in your inbox bearing the name of someone you know, but it’s also easy to forge an e-mail’s “from” address.

    E-mail and social networking are major avenues through which bad actors attempt to trick you into compromising your private data as well as that of others. Always be cautious of opening attachments: they’re the most common way for a computer to become infected with viruses that can steal or damage your data, or even hold it for ransom. Common sense goes a long way — a spreadsheet from an accountant delivered at the same time every month is probably a safe bet. A Word document from an accountant with a name that doesn’t dovetail with your normal interactions should raise a red flag. Remember: It only takes a few minutes to contact an e-mail’s sender to be assured that the document is legitimate and it can save you a world of trouble.

  • Use antivirus software… even if you have a Mac!

    As a computer professional, I have become the support technician for my family and most of my friends. You may also have someone in your life who fills that role. On behalf of that person, please, please use antivirus software. Windows has MS Defender built right in for free. Avast and Malwarebytes are two other good, free offerings for Windows.

    And yes, Mac users, there are viruses aimed at you. I typed this on a Mac running Clam Xav (free), which has caught three different viruses before they could infect my computer.

  • Back up your data! Check out Crashplan or Backblaze for an inexpensive, reliable backup that you won’t notice until you need it.

    Most people have been warned to back up their data, but most don’t do it because they think it will be a complicated and frustrating procedure. However, that’s no longer the case. There are a plethora of excellent backup services that, for a modest fee, will run in the background, constantly backing up your computer. The two that I’ve personally used are Crashplan and Backblaze. If you never want to think about it, use Backblaze. You install it once and don’t need to worry about it ever again unless you lose something important. Crashplan offers more options to fiddle with. If you enjoy changing settings to fit your needs, Crashplan is a good option.

  • Patch and update! The importance of keeping all programs on your computer up to date cannot be overstated. In particular, install patches from Microsoft, Adobe, and Sun (Java) immediately.

    A fully patched and up-to-date computer is much harder to break into or damage than one that isn’t. Rebooting might be a pain and it seems like patches come out every other day, but it is crucial to keep your programs current. Unpatched computers are vulnerable computers.