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Self Help Information

Get quick solutions to common security issues by simply following these guidelines, to secure your computer - and keep it running smoothly.

Computer Security

Computer security can be a very complicated subject - but basic, strong security can be relatively easy - if you follow these simple rules:

If you are unsure of what these bullet points mean, further detail can be gained from the topics below.

Backups

Why do I need a backup? Everything you create on a computer is stored on the 'hard disk' inside the computer case, which is a mechanical device that is prone to wear and tear.

Just like a car - a hard disk will wear out and breakdown.

How do I backup? In its simplest form, a 'backup' is nothing more than duplicate copies of your most important files - that are stored on an additional hard disk. The reasoning behind this, is that two hard disks are very unlikely to fail at the same moment in time. So if one fails, all your photos, email, music etc is safe on the other disk, while you get a replacement.

Unfortunately, this does not protect you from viruses, fire and theft etc, but it does protect you from the most likely event, which is hard drive failure. To protect against viruses and theft etc, you simply need a copy of your data at another location, preferably offline, which means not connected to your computer all the time.

Viruses like Cryptolocker can infect all connected data storage, so disconnecting a backup drive - after the backup - is the only safe method, to overcome this issue.

Passwords

We are always told that a long, complex password is the best to use. Here's why:

Why use long passwords?

Well, basically, short passwords are easy to guess. Attackers know that people are 'lazy' and will try to use the easiest memorable password - so "Luke123" for example would be very easy to guess, especially if your name was 'Luke'.

Why complex passwords?

Look down at your keyboard. If you only use lowercase letters, you have 26 to choose from. If you only used these letters you could have 308,915,776 possible passwords.

That sounds like a lot?

But actually a very basic PC would be able to guess this in seconds. If you use other 'symbols' in your password/phrase, you dramatically increase the time it takes to guess the password - from mere seconds - to years worth of effort.

I've been over simplifying here, but in a nutshell, complexity and length are required to massively slow down the chances of an attacker guessing your password - and hence gain access your bank account etc.

How to create strong passphrases
Stop using passwords!

Without going into technical detail, don't use passwords!

Use passphrases instead - they are the easiest, strongest 'passwords' to remember especially - if used with a 'padding'.

Here are some typical passwords - do you want to try and remember them?:

Example Passwords:

However, a passphrase is just a sequence of words and is much easier to remember:

Example Passphrases:

The simple idea is that passphrases are much easier to remember, longer and therefore relatively secure.

The Padding Trick

When used with a 'padding' - a symbol 'block' you attach to your passphrases - e.g. the characters "@6/" - which always stays the same - the passphase beonmces dramatically stronger.

So, if you combine easy to remember passphrases with a padding, using our last example you would get:

"greatbeaglebookcase@6/" or "quickorangebacongarden@6/"

This allows you to create 'passwords' that are complex and long, whilst being reasonably memorable. Even better, you can always write the passphrases down and keep them in your wallet. If you lose the wallet, no one is going to know the padding, so can't use the passphrase.

Firewalls

The very first line of defence for your computer is called a firewall. This is simply a piece of software, that can be installed on your machine, which monitors your connections to other computers - stopping any malicious activity that it detects.

A firewall is the single most important method to protect your computer.

Basically, firewall software should be installed and configured immediately on any machine without one. Microsoft Windows for example, comes with basic firewall software installed, that can be configured easily, or you could download and install one of the many free/commercial variants available on the internet.

Computer Virus

A computer virus is a piece of software, that can replicate itself from one computer to another - spreading damage as it goes, from machine to machine. The 'damage' that occurs varies enormously - from virtually no effect at all, to randomly deleting files, or even stopping your computer from starting. They can 'travel' from machine to machine via a network (e.g. the internet), or USB memory sticks, floppy disks and even DVDs.

As soon as you connect a computer to the internet, it is prone to attack!

All is not lost however, as there are steps you can take to reduce your exposure to attack:

Spyware

There is often some confusion over Spyware, as it can act in a similar fashion to a computer virus. However, spyware is special in that it is designed to collect information about users - without their knowledge. This information is typically used for marketing or fraudulent purposes - things like personal information, passwords and browsing habits.

Spyware very often causes slow and erratic behaviour on infected computers.

Most anti virus programs now come with built in anti-spyware capabilities, so the solution is a simple one - install antivirus software as above, and all should be well.

Performance Issues

Is your computer running slower than it used to? This is one of the most common computer issues, that affects almost everyone at some time. The causes of poor performance, unfortunately are many and varied - it could be one, or a combination of things:

As a consequence, it's not always easy to overcome without training or experience, but there are some things you can do to help:



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