Safe Computing

Sorry I haven’t written in a while.  Call it a COVID related slow down of articles.  Anyway, like the rest of the country, the plague is starting to abate thanks to operation warp speed which delivered amazing vaccines in record times.

The Problem

As a segue, another plague is happening to computer users everyday, but this is nothing new.  Malignant actors have long tried to hack into computer systems.  Most of these hacks have been directed at Microsoft for Windows is the largest footprint of operating systems.  It makes sense for bad hackers to exploit flaws where they can do the most damage.  I make a distinction between good and bad hackers.  Good hackers (Whitehats) get paid to find flaws and report it to the company producing the software, while bad hackers (Blackhats) try to damage and profit by holding companies hostage.

The most profitable tactic is to hack into a remote system, encrypt all the companies data and then demand payment via anonymous email.  Upon payment, the thieves supply the company with the keys to unencrypt their data.  Of course, this is risky business for the company.  Pay and hope the thieves follow through with the keys or don’t pay and try to recover all the data from backup systems.

In order to stop these attacks it would be wise for companies to strengthen their systems, have solid backups and not give into the hacker’s demands.  Taking the profit out of the scam will certainly slow the attacks.


While it is less likely for home users to get attacked, it is still possible.  The home user can be prepared for attacks by keeping their operating system up to date, backing up their data regularly and using strong passwords for various online accounts.

The good news for Windows users is that the built in Defender in Windows 10 is getting better at stopping viruses.  Malware is another issue and can be solved by using software from Malwarebytes. Sorry for those who want to hold on using Windows 7, it is unsupported by Microsoft and has too many security flaws.  As far as minimal drag on system resources, Webroot offers excellent antivirus and malware protection.

Of course, if you want to avoid all Windows designed attacks another operating system like macOS or Linux will give you protection. I have been using Linux Mint for years without a virus or malware issue.

For backup purposes keep two copies of a file, one locally and the other on a backup.  This can be cloud based like Carbonite or a backup USB drive attached to your system.  Use good synchronizing software to keep the files current.  Move valuable files from the downloads folder and exclude it from backup (software installation files are large and age rapidly).  Backup drives are inexpensive – it may be worth it to rotate two drives and keep the other in a safety deposit box.  This eliminates loss of data due to fire.

I’m not a fan of compressing or encrypting backup data. In case of disaster, files should be readily available for quick access.

Strong passwords are essential for safe computing.  Don’t repeat passwords between websites.  Password managers like Lastpass and Dashlane can store your passwords and create strong passwords for any new websites.  I prefer local control over my passwords by using Keepass or its many variants.  In a Tolkien expression: Use one password (for the manager) “to rule them all.”

Keep Safe All

We live in a dangerous world, but with preparation and vigilance, you can keep yourself and loved ones safe.