Computer security: do it now

Last month, I had the awful misfortune to be attacked by a malware virus on my computer. An actual “ransom note” appeared on my laptop screen, and I was horrified. This is a thing? Someone can do this — hold my work and personal files hostage? Being the good American that I am, I was not about to pay criminals to get my own data restored to me. I found out that many do pay these criminals — their data is just too important to wait for. Imagine having the big annual meeting at work, and you are in charge of the data, and you receive a blinking screen followed by a ransom note? It’s “I wanna get away time!


I felt like an idiot — I need my laptop computer each and every day for work, and yet I had taken little to no steps to protect myself from being wiped out by a virus. Is your machine at risk, too? It is worth a moment to learn to back up your files, and back up often. I ended up having to get a completely new hard drive installed, and had the good fortune to connect with a computer professional that does not work for one of the big box stores.

Don’t get me started — I originally took my laptop to them, and $300 later, I was no better off. I did spend $100 on office supplies I probably didn’t need, however.)

Being referred to computer expert Mark Beckley was a lucky thing for me, and I asked him if I could share with our readers some of his tips on computer maintenance and more specifically, data safety. Here are his tips:

Back Up Your Data!

The key to getting this done is to keep it simple. Get your data organized into one place, and back-up becomes very easy. Go to your back-up medium (whatever you use to back up your files), and create a new folder each day. Use the current day’s date for the folder name, and copy your data into that folder. You have protected data each and every morning!

 Manage Your Process Count!

Launch your Task Manager and get familiar with the little number in the lower left hand corner. That number is the number of concurrent processes that the machine is running. Managing that number down will increase performance exponentially — conversely, allowing that number to increase will decrease performance exponentially. You manage this number down simply by removing unnecessary software on your machine.

If It Is a Brand New Laptop, Start With a Clean Slate!

Most of the major chains (Staples, Best Buy, Wal-Mart etc.) will “image” your old machine on to your new one. Never do this! It brings all of your detritus, problems and baggage forward. Take the time to reinstall your applications. Since you already have all your data nicely organized and backed-up (see Item #1) just copy your data onto your new machine after you install your applications, and you are good to go!

Anti-Virus Protection:

There are many good anti-virus programs out there, but none of them are perfect. Some of them “phone home” every time you turn your computer on, and seem to be more interested in collecting data than preventing viruses. Others run too many processes on the machine and slow things down to an unacceptable level. You should carefully consider the usage of the machine and whether or not there is sensitive data on the it when choosing your anti-virus software. Ask questions and gather information before purchasing anti-virus programs — it is your money and your anti-virus software, and should be tailored to your specific needs.

"WTF!” Cat sees itself in infinity. (Wikipedia)
“WTF!” Cat sees itself in infinity.

Security Practices

The most important thing here is to understand what you are doing, and where and when you are vulnerable.  Your operating behavior should be different when you are on a public network at a coffee shop than when you are at work or at home behind a firewall. Your computer’s safety depends on this – practice discretion when operating your laptop programs at Starbuck’s – you are more vulnerable here than you are at home.

I would like to thank computer expert Mark Beckley for these beginning safety tips for happy and safe laptop computing, and invite you to connect with Mark should you have any questions on the health of your laptop. Here’s a little about Mark: After more than 20 years working in information technology, for firms in the Boston area like Creative Gourmets, Polaroid, and BBN Software Products Division, Mark Beckley started his own company, Small Business Computing, in January 2004. Since then, Mark has been building custom desktops, and servicing the technology needs of hundreds of small business and home office clients on the north side of Boston, Massachusetts.

Mark can be reached via his website (His motto: we take the SH out of IT!) or via email at

3 thoughts on “Computer security: do it now

  • March 25, 2015 at 2:22 PM

    OK, so you had a virus-attack, which probably cleaned out all your data! Too bad, unfortunately! However, to say that you needed a brand new hard disk to replace the one which existed before: What !!! Did the virus eat the earlier one? 😉

    You generally install only as many applications as you generally use. So, what’s the big point in uninstalling the ones you supposedly do not use! Keeping the process count at a low level, or, watching what is causing it to flare-up is certainly a good way to keep tabs on probable virus/malware infections in the system!

    I am sorry but I didn’t find your computer expert, Mark, to be sharing any real tips to the newbies for improving computer security! Or possibly, you might have failed to highlight them yourself other than dwelling needlessly on backups!!

  • March 25, 2015 at 8:25 AM

    I’m sorry, but making a full backup of your data files manually every day (including photos, music and video?) is a huge WASTE OF TIME! What do I know, I’ve only been using computers since the mid-70’s? Look into a backup program like Create Synchronicity or choose from many others. BUT BEWARE, just connecting an external HDD to your machine could cause malware to infect the external drive, then when you restore your files- WA BAAAM- you’re infected again.

    Better to backup to a network drive, preferably one attached to a little server like a Raspberry Pi, or an ODROID, or RADXA, or who cares. These are all ARM machines, and will run Linux (some of them VERY fast), and you can automate your backup regime to make a full backup each week (and even shuffle two or more backups so you aren’t wasting space, just overwriting the 2nd or 3rd, etc. old backup), and make an incremental backup (of only new files since the last backup) each day.

    Manual backups will quickly be ignored and you’ll be back at square 1. I am sorry to say that the advice you were given by Mark Beckley will not work for most humans. Did you ask Matt to show you his backup tree? Thought not.

    You can also image your drive overnight. Yeah, you get everything, but at least you can go back to a working copy of your drive, unless your malware is a time-bomb that activates at a certain time (you can, however fool those), only losing files from the last day or two.

  • March 24, 2015 at 5:51 PM

    The best method for computer security is educating yourself on what NOT to do – especially when browsing the internet and downloading free applications. It doesn’t matter how much money you spend on security programs and appliances, or how many layers of security you enable to prevent malicious attacks. No machine is immune to attacks (see stuxnet). The most secure computer in the world is still vulnerable to exploits when in the hands of an uneducated user (PEBCAK).

    The best rule-fo-thumb here is – If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Stay away from free applications from untrusted sources. Don’t give away personal information to untrusted websites – as this can be used against you in a phishing attack (see social engineering).

    Darren, Montreal, Quebec.

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