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P.C. Security & Housekeeping Basics

Written By: Mike Nalbone

High-speed Internet access via Cable Modem and DSL has made multi-media web browsing possible. I can remember when downloading the simplest of games could take an hour or more via a dial-up connection, and putting photos on a web page was taboo because even small thumbnail images took too long to load.

These days its not uncommon for folks to have hundreds of music files, movie clips, & games on their hard-drive. Its easy to fill up a 30-gigabyte drive because a song file can take only a few seconds to retrieve from a remote server. There was a time when a mere 64kb was a lot of space! My new toaster probably has more than that! But, I digress

These advancements in computing speed and power do come at a cost, but no one has ever taken the time to explain these caveats to us regular people. There are, at a minimum, a few things you should know regarding DSL or Cable Internet access.

Well talk about two of the biggies in this article, namely: Security and Housekeeping.

The fact that your DSL or Cable connection is always on has really opened up a can of worms if you are not informed & prepared to take some basic protective measures.

It used to be, that when we dialed into the Net via a regular, analog modem our service provider (Earthlink, AOL, Prodigy, etc.) would assign an IP address to our PC each time. This address would change every time you hung up and called back in. Thats what they call a Dynamic IP address: it changed when you reconnected. Think of your PI address as your PCs phone number on the Net. Once you connect, that’s how your machine is identified and how your data or traffic gets routed to you.

We entered the era of high-speed access & with it came the common use of Static IP addresses. The address no longer changes because your machine is always connected to the Net. Theres no reason to reassign a new IP address because you dont hang up. You generally keep the one you have for an extended period of time.

Why should this matter to you? Well, just like after having the same phone number for a while almost guarantees youll be getting interrupted during mealtime (marketing time), a Static IP address can leave your machine open to thorough probing from the outside and the ill-intentions of others on the Net. The more time a hacker can spend trying to access your machine, the better his chances of success.

In other words, its harder to hit a moving target (a dynamic IP address), but you aint goin anywhere if you have a Cable Modem or DSL!

And remember, while there are laws here in the US, which aim to protect you & I from these rogue villains, the Net is literally a no-mans-land. Our laws do not apply & are ignored & even scoffed at in some of the places where hacking attempts originate.

Dont panic, though, there are things you can do to minimize the chances that prying eyes will find their way into your machine.

First and foremost, be sure you have some sort of Firewall installed. A firewall is designed to minimize the chances of an outside attacker being successful. Notice I said minimize? No security on the Net is foolproof. Period. Someone once remarked that the only way to safeguard a PC is to turn it off, disconnect it, cut all of the wires, and bury it in the ground & then MAYBE, it would be safe from hacking attempts!

A correctly configured firewall can help you beat the odds. If the hacker is having a tough time getting in to your PC thanks to a Firewall, theyd be better off trying another, less stubborn machine.

There are a couple of different types of Firewalls for you to consider; the first & most common being a Software Firewall. If you have Cable or DSL service, your provider probably gave you at the very least an introductory or trial version of a Software Firewall like McAffee or Norton Internet Security.

Spend some time getting to know these programs and their settings. It can save you a lot of heartache.

The second, common type is a hardware Firewall. Its an actual device that gets plugged into your connection just before your PC. Properly configured and maintained, a hardware firewall is considered by many to be the most effective in preventing snooping and attacks.

What do I mean by maintained, you ask?

That brings us to the second part of this article: HOUSEKEEPING .

First, and foremost, if your PC is running any version of Microsoft Windows, you should be visiting http://www.windowsupdate.microsoft.com at least every month or so to check for any updates. Just follow the instructions on the web site.

Hackers are constantly finding new security loopholes in Windows, and Microsoft, bless their hearts, frequently publishes free updates designed to plug these holes. Like I said earlier, no machine is hack-proof. Hackers frequently attack the FBI, CIA, Banks, and big corporations’ computers. If they want in, they’ll find a way. Just make it as difficult as you can for them.

If your machine is running sluggishly, you might want to defragment your hard drive.

I hear you, “What the hell does that mean?”

Picture your new hard drive as a blank sheet of paper. When you install a new program or create a file on your hard drive, it starts to fill in information on this “blank sheet” . Over time, as programs are erased or as files are deleted, empty spaces begin to show up on the sheet. Now, when you install a new program or create a new file, your pc looks for the first available empty space on the sheet.

What if the new file is larger than the empty space? Well, your pc will copy part of the file into that first space & the rest of it goes into the next available space. The process repeats itself until the entire file has been copied. See where I’m going here? After time, parts of nearly all of your files can be scattered all over the place. That’s called fragmentation.

When you go to use the file, it takes more time to find each part & put it back together than it would if the file was all in order & all in one piece.

Luckily, you can fix this. Windows comes with a utility called a “de-fragmenter”. On my PC, which runs Windows 2000, I can access the defragmenter by clicking “Start”, “Programs”, “Accessories”, “System Tools”, and then “Disk Defragmenter”. The location may be slightly different on your PC.

Once you’ve found the program, run it, & click on the Analyze button. Windows will check your hard drive & show you what percentage of the files are split-up. It will also make a recommendation as whether or not you should de-fragment the drive.

Defragmenting a drive can take a long time, so, you might want to run it just before you go to bed at night, or before you leave for work in the morning.

One more housekeeping tip:

Why waste valuable hard drive space? Un-install any programs you no longer use by clicking “My Computer”, then “Control Panel”, then “Add/Remove Programs”.

Windows will show you a list of registered programs installed on your system. If you click on any of the program names, Windows will show you the size of the program, and how frequently you have used it, and the date you last ran it. Chances are, if you haven’t looked in a while, you’ll find some things there you’d totally forgotten about & no longer use. Get rid of the junk. It’s like cleaning out the attic. The extra space can be used for “new junk”.

I’ve only covered the basics here, and these are the minimum steps you should take. For more information on maintaining the health of your computer, just do a search on Google or Yahoo for “PC housekeeping” (include the quotes).

If you have neglected your poor PC, now is the time to make things right. You’ll gain better performance & possibly thwart any future, bigger problems.

About the Author

Mike Nalbone is a freelance ghost-writer. He specializes in creating unique, original & affordable content articles for web site owners. You can visit Mike at: http://www.nalbone.org

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