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Ten Useful IT Tips.
Ten Useful IT Tips that could save you a lot of heartache - and lots of money!

This special section of ColchesterGuide website deals specifically with IT related issues. We hope you'll forgive this departure from the rest of the site - but find it a useful one!

1. Don't Panic!

The worst thing people do when they hit a problem is panic! They start to remove programs, reinstall applications, reinstall operating systems and often reformat their whole hard drive, losing everything in the process. But it doesn't have to be this way. Take things a step at a time and work through them logically. Only change one thing at a time. Remember - you had a working system, something happened that stopped it working and if you can identify what that something was there is a good chance that you can reverse it and have a working system again. If you added any new hardware to your system or installed a new program, the first thing to do is to try removing it. If you are using one of the later versions of Windows (XP or Vista) you can use a roll-back option to restore your system to a previous state. Be careful if your system was supplied with an original system image CD rather than a true Operating System CD. If you use an image CD it will restore your system to the state it was in when you first had it delivered and you will have a useable system - however it will be missing any programs, images, music, videos or documents that you might have created or downloaded in the meantime!

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2. Wireless Networking.

Wireless Networking has become very popular over the past few years and it does make life a lot easier if you want to share one Broadband connection throughout a whole household. However it does have a downside - you need to be aware of wireless security. "Why - I've got nothing anyone would want anyway", I hear you say (which used to be exactly how I felt too). If so, watch this short BBC video clip and see if you still feel the same afterwards! If any illegal activity is carried out on your wireless link the police will trace it to you. The fact that you are entirely innocent and they will find no trace of any illegal activity on your PC will be little compensation when they cart off your PC (and maybe you yourself) for further investigation. So make sure you set up the security settings on your wireless router to use WEP encription at a bare minimum or even better use WPA Pre-shared key. Also turn off the SSID broadcast option - this broadcasts the name of your router to the world at large but if only you or people in your household need access to your wireless network, why broadcast it for everyone else! Finally make sure you change the default username/password that was set on the router when you bought it - otherwise anyone who does gain access to it could simply look up the default values on the internet and turn off all your security settings (but obviously make sure you note the new username/password somewhere you can get to it if needed!).

3. Anti-Virus software.

Viruses, more accurately known as “Malicious software”, are a range of specially designed programs written with one purpose - to attack, degrade or prevent the normal use of your PC. There are several different types of such software (also known as 'malware') and these include viruses, worms, malicious active content and denial of service attacks. There is also software such as Trojans or Spyware designed to help it's authors to carry out fraud or identity theft. It can sit in the background on your PC and unknown to you observe everything you do and record every keystroke you make before transmitting them to it's author.

Your first line of defence against all these nasties (but not your only line as you'll read below) is to install Anti-Virus software. Anti-Virus software is a special type of application that sits in the background on your PC and watches as you access files either looking for known virus infected programs or looking for any suspicious activity. In order for these programs to be of any use, they need to be updated regularly - at least once a day and more often if possible. Remember new viruses are emerging all the time and unless your Anti-Virus software is kept up to date it will not recognise a virus that has been recently released and so it may not protect your PC against it. You don't even have to pay for Anti-Virus software - you can download a version that is entirely FREE for private home use from Grisoft Software called Anti-Virus Guard (AVG). Just visit http://free.grisoft.com and download a copy now.

4. Firewalls.

Firewalls are often spoken about in the same breath as Anti-Virus programs but they are quite different. While an Anti-Virus program sits in the background on your PC and scans files as you open them looking for anything suspicious, a firewall works more like an invisible shield, hiding your PC from the outside world. If you imagine your PC as a television set, you might receive email on BBC1, send email on BBC2, browse the internet on ITV1, download files from the internet on Channel 4 etc... However in this imaginary PC/TV example there would be thousands of TV channels - most of which you would never use or even be aware of. However malicious software writers have in the past found ways to use these little known channels to gain access to a PC and make it do work for them, such as sending out thousands of junk emails - all with the innocent victim's email address in the Sent From box!

A basic firewall runs in the background on your PC and monitors the traffic flowing between your computer and the Internet. It blocks off remote access to the channels that are potentially vulnerable to attack from the outside and only leaves open the channels that you really need to use. If it sees anything that look suspicious, such as a request by an unknown source to connect to your PC, the firewall automatically identifies and blocks it. A firewall not only prevents unauthorized access to your PC, but also hides your PC from the rest of the internet, thus helping to prevent attempted intrusions in the first place. Windows XP & Vista have basic firewalls built into them and if you are using nothing else you should make sure that these are turned on.

Again you can download Firewall software that is available FREE to personal homes users. To download a copy go to http://www.zonealarm.com/store/content/catalog/products/sku_list_za.jsp?dc=56pus&ctry=GB&lang=en

There are also such things as hardware firewalls. These are typically routers which apart from directing your web page requests out onto the internet also block off the channels that you don't really need to have open. These are considered to be a better option that a software firewall. Be aware however that Firewalls can sometimes be a source of frustration as they can sometimes block access to resources or websites that you legitimately want to use!

5. Web Content filters.

If you have children in the house or don't want to run the risk of being exposed to certain types of website content, then a Web Content Filter will help to protect you. It will block access to any sites that have dubious content. The software may need a little 'tweaking' before you get it 100% to your liking as by default it may block sites such as YouTube & Flickr but it's very easy to unblock them either temporarily or permanently. And the good news again is that it's entirely FREE for personal home use! Just go to http://www.k9webprotection.com/index.html , download the software and complete a simple on-line free license application.

6. Anti-Spyware software.

Spyware is general term used for software that monitors the actions of a computer user. Sometimes such software may be installed legitimately to provide website security or monitoring or may have relatively harmless purposes such as collecting marketing data on websites you visit. However it may have been installed for malicious reasons, with the purpose of collecting information that can be used to attack your computer or gain access to your online transactions (e.g. “keylogging” to gain passwords). You can get a FREE Spyware scan of your PC by going to http://www.spywareguide.com/onlinescan.php

7. Be careful where you click!

Phishing, a type of fraud whereby criminals attempt to trick their victims into giving out confidential information, is forever on the increase. The fraudsters commonly send fake emails (email spoofing) pretending to come from a legitimate, trusted source requesting information (such as a bank account details and passwords) or directing the victim to a fake Internet website where this information can be captured (webpage spoofing). This fraud can be very carefully targeted (where the criminal has prior knowledge about their victim) or randomly distributed on a mass scale through SPAM. Be very careful and wary of any emails that you receive asking you to verify account details of any kind (bank, Amazon, Ebay etc...) - even if the fraudsters don't gain access to your money they can still use your Ebay account to sell counterfeit goods and in doing so hide behind your identity and use your Positive feedback rating. Also be careful if a link you click on asks for your permission to download or install software - you could be installing a Trojan, Virus or Keylogger!

8. Avoiding SPAM.

A good trick to avoid SPAM (or at least making it harder for the SPAMMERs to find you) is to set up a free email account (for example using Hotmail, Google, Yahoo) and use the free email address rather than your normal email address whenever you register for a site, sign a guestbook or download any software. SPAMMERs can 'harvest' email addresses from Guestbooks and some sites sell on your details to generate an income from otherwise free services or software. By using a free email account you divert all the junk email to that address rather than having it turn up in your normal Inbox.

You could also use an email filtering service such as MXGuarddog which works by passing all your incoming mail through the MX Guarddog system first, scanning it for known viruses and SPAM and then only delivering the clean emails remaining to your inbox. It takes a bit of understanding about email to set-up but once it's done you can forget all about it and you should see a significant reduction in the amount of SPAM that reaches your inbox!

9. Editing Images.

One of the most popular uses for a PC nowadays is associated with photography. However you often want to either edit the photographs you've taken (to remove something in the background for example) or you might want to make the image smaller to allow it to be emailed easily. Or if you've got a lot of photographs, just finding the one you want can be a huge task! Again there is software available that you can download and use for FREE - and it's pretty good too! Check out http://picasa.google.com

10. Disposing of your old PC.

The first thing to ask yourself is 'do I really need a new PC'? There are lots of things you can do to breathe new life into your PC and they are much cheaper than replacing it entirely. Simply reinstalling the Operating System can make a huge difference in performance. Maybe adding extra memory or a larger hard drive would solve your problem, or replacing an old readonly CD drive with a read/write DVD drive. If you only use your PC to access the internet, sent email and write letters you will be surprised at how little PC power you can get away with - despite what the sales pitches tell you! And you'll be doing a little bit to help the environment too.

If you really do decide you must go down the replacement route then you need to dispose of your old PC securely. The local Civic Amenity Site (or Rubbish Tip to you and me!) will have a facility to ensure the PC is properly disposed of and recycle the parts that can be re-used. Don't foget to either physically destroy (a mallet or sledgehammer come in handy here) or securely wipe all the information off your old hard drive or you might be leaving yourself open to identity theft or the risk that someone could access all your old emails - including all those password reminders you've asked for! Be aware that simply deleting everything or formating the hard drive are not good enough - anyone who knows what they are doing can easily recover what you thought you'd deleted forever.

Hey and guess what - you can securely wipe your hard drive for FREE! Darik have software called Boot and Nuke which complies with Pentagon security requirements. You can download a copy from http://dban.sourceforge.net

OK That's all folks! But If you've still not had enough Useful IT Tips there is lots more free software and information for you to read at http://www.techsupportalert.com/best_46_free_utilities.htm

Looking for IT Support or help in the Colchester Area? Call Chris on 0843 289 3091 (Local Rate) now.


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