General Computer Safety Tips

Regardless of how much you use the Internet, there are still a few general precautions that you should take to make sure that you and your computer are ready to deal with any problems that come your way.  After all, not all threats to your computer come from the Internet; others are simply accidents or oversights in how the programs on your computer work.  Here are a few other ways that you can keep your computer safe that we haven't discussed already.

4 tips on how to keep your computer safe

1.  Update programs on your computer when possible.

Sometimes, after a program on your computer comes out, the people who made it will find a way to improve it.  This may add new features to the program or make it perform better, but more importantly, it will usually fix things with the program that weren't quite right before.  These could include parts of the program that could make it do something that it shouldn't, or could be used by someone to hijack your computer and control or cause damage to (part of) it.  It is almost always a good idea to install these updates to programs whenever you are notified that one becomes available.

2. Shut down (or at least restart) your computer somewhat frequently.

Sometimes, when people are done using their computers, they like to leave them on and run them in "sleep mode".  This lets them quickly start using their computers again without waiting for them to boot up.  While this is okay to do once in a while, it's generally a good idea to completely shut down your computer when you're not using it, or at least restart it occasionally. 

The main reason that you want to do this is because part of the boot process of your computer involves running self-tests to find and fix minor problems.  If you don't shut down or restart your computer somewhat frequently, your computer can't perform this maintenance.  This means that errors can pile up and slow your computer down, or otherwise cause it to not run properly.

Another reason that you want to do this is because helps you save on your electricity bill, since you're not powering a device that you're not using!

3.  If you run into a problem, try to use a system restore point.

A security feature that many modern computer operating systems have is that they will occasionally take "snapshots" of what all of the information inside your computer looks like at a certain point in time.  These are known as "system restore points".  If you notice that your computer is working fine one day and then doesn't work properly the next, and you can't find a solution, you may be able to use this feature to fix your computer. 

When you use a system restore point, your computer will revert all information on itself back to the way it was at the moment in time that you chose.  Unfortunately, this may delete certain files or programs that you have created or installed since the system restore point.  However, it may also remove files or programs that were causing your computer to work incorrectly.

You may be able to use a system restore point from your main control panel. Other times, however, you must use one from the setup menu that can only be accessed when your computer boots up.  Ask a trusted friend or family member who knows how to use computers if you need help figuring out how to use a system restore point.

4.  Back up your computer files on an external device or service.

There are some cases in which files will become lost, damaged, or stolen, and not even using a system restore point will help you get them back.  That's why, as an additional precaution, you can create copies of your important computer files and store them in a place that's external to your computer.  The two most common options are external hard drives and cloud-based storage services.

  • External hard drives can be bought at your local computer and electronics store, and are relatively inexpensive (usually costing somewhere between $45 and $80, depending on the memory capacity).  You are usually able to just plug the hard drive in and move your files onto it, much like you would copy or move files to other places on your computer.  Then, you can just copy them back onto your computer if it ever gets broken, or if you get a new computer.

    Note, however, that external hard drives can be lost, damaged, or stolen, just like your computer can.  So if you use one, be sure to store it in a safe place.  Also, be aware that some external hard drives require their own power source (as opposed to just running off the power of your computer), so you might want to have a spare wall socket available if you use one.

  • Cloud storage services are websites and Internet-based applications that allow you to store your computer files inside server computers on the Internet.  (See our What is The Cloud article for more information on how this works).  The advantage of these services over external hard drives is that they often have free options (if you don't need that much memory space), they allow you to access (and sometimes share) your files from any computer, and you don't have to run the risk of them getting broken.

    However, cloud storage services are somewhat reliant on the Internet to work (whereas external hard drives are not), so your ability to use them may be limited if you can't access the Internet.  Also, when compared to external hard drives, their memory capacities are rather small (for free services), and are usually rather expensive to upgrade.

    An example of a popular cloud storage service is Dropbox.  If you'd like to learn how to use it, visit our Dropbox Course.

Whichever method you use, know that copying your computer files over for the first time will usually take a little while, since the device or service has to accept a whole bunch of new incoming data.  Therefore, you should usually plan to do this at a time when you're not going to be using your computer much (such as overnight), since the operation will probably slow down your computer a bit, and you won't be able to do anything with the files that you're copying over.  Future copy jobs, however, usually won't take very long, because the device or service just has to copy any files that are new or have changed.

 

Anyway, there you go!  You now know that rebooting your computer and updating its programs are ways to identify and fix minor problems with it before they become major ones.  You also now know that you can use a system restore point to reset the information on your computer to an earlier point in time, which may delete or otherwise fix problematic files or programs.  And you know that you can prepare for the worst by storing copies of your computer files somewhere other than your computer's hard drive, in order to keep them safe.  We hope these tips are useful in helping you avoid or manage any problems that you encounter with your computer!

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