Computing worries? Stay cool

Computing worries? Stay cool
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First Published: Wed, Mar 12 2008. 12 55 AM IST

Updated: Wed, Mar 12 2008. 12 55 AM IST
Growing up in small-town Arkansas, I had an aunt who delighted in misfortune. She wasn’t a bad person, but she liked nothing better than being the first to spread word of illness, misfortune or even some vague premonition of bad times ahead. Sometimes, I feel a little like Aunt Phyllis. I spend a great deal of time telling you to worry and fear all sorts of threats. Viruses, adware, spyware, worms, hackers, scams, phisher attacks . . . the list of my reasons to worry goes on and on. All these can be real threats. But, sometimes, such worries take on exaggerated importance. I know people who worry so much about computer risks that it has turned computing into a chore. So, let's take a break and talk about some common questions that shouldn't worry you.
Should I leave my computer on, or turn it off?
Over the years, as technology has changed, the typical questions I get from readers have changed too. But not this one. People worried in 1993, and they fret about it today. Stop worrying. When it comes to a desktop computer, you're probably safe leaving it turned on 24/7. Or you can do what I do and turn it off when you're away from the computer for more than three or four hours at a time (things are different with a laptop. These smaller computers don't do as good a job keeping cool when left on continuously).
What can I do about cookies?
My gosh, you’d think these things were filled with poison. They seem to have the power to reduce the sanest of people to deep despair. The truth is that cookies are just tiny text files that some websites use to identify you. While it's true that hacker sites and X-rated sites can play mischief with cookies, you needn't worry about them if you stay in safe neighbourhoods on the Web. In fact, cookies make computing better. For instance, Weather.com uses cookies to allow users to create their own pages filled with information about cities of special interest. Here's a website—http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTTP_cookie— for those who want to read more about cookies. You'll see the misconceptions about them as well as ways to guard against them.
OK, so far. But viruses are really something to worry about, right?
Yes, although I can tell you that a virus has never done damage to the computers at my home. That's because I use good anti-virus software and keep it updated. I get a lot of email, visit plenty of websites (including hacker sites). Once, nutty as this seems, a reader naively sent me an email with a virus attached asking for me to identify it. No harm was done. So, worry about viruses long enough to install a good anti-virus program and keep it up-to-date. Then chill.
But it's hard to chill when hackers are out to get me.
Well, not really. Yes, there are hackers out there, but they are mostly looking for targets where real money is to be made. Hackers fall into several groups. There are the amateurs—some very skilled— who often work together to shut down websites or create other dramatic exploits that help give them status. Then there are the real professionals. They aren't going to the trouble of breaking into random computers in the hope of stealing your Aunt Vera's recipe for tuna casserole. If you enable the firewall on Windows and use a router (which adds another layer of protection), you probably will never face a serious attack on your home computer.
So, my computing life is worry-free now, right?
There's too much of Aunt Phyllis in me to leave you fat and happy. So, I'll leave you with a last thought: My No. 1 candidate for the culprit who creates the most danger to your computer is you (don't feel bad, I'm in the same boat). I've seen more damage done by inept “fixing” than from all the viruses and hackers in the world.
©2008/Cox News Service
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First Published: Wed, Mar 12 2008. 12 55 AM IST
More Topics: Computers | Hackers | Scam | Web | Desktop |