Dr. Hardy assisting one of her students during class.

Computer Power

Should you turn your computer off or put it to sleep/ hibernate/ standby?

It depends. If you are stepping away from your desk for a while, it is generally more efficient to put your computer to sleep/ hibernate/ standby. Putting your computer to ‘sleep’ (click on the ‘sleep’ button from the Start menu, or simply close your laptop) automatically saves your work – and also saves on power. In addition, it affords the added convenience of still letting networks download necessary updates and related maintenance tasks. Reawakening your machine allows you to continue working as you had been with minimal delay.

However, if you are leaving for the weekend or vacation, shut down your computer and start afresh when you return to work. You may also need to shut down your computer when you install new hardware or software.

Note: Screensavers are generally not energy savers. Some screensavers may cause the computer to burn more energy, and may prevent the computer from entering sleep mode.

Security software

If there is one security software you must invest in, it should be an anti-virus.

While there is no such thing as total security over the Internet, there is some reliable anti-virus software in the market. Most basic anti-virus software is reasonably priced (ranging from $20-$90), given your return on investment. Norton 360 version 5 (Symantec), ZoneAlarm, Shield and AVG are highly rated. They are easy to install and navigate and include firewall, anti-virus, anti-spyware and anti-spam.

Computer Privacy

This cannot be stressed enough – passwords should be strong, easily remembered but not easily guessed.

Here are some easy tips:

  • Do make use of numbers, a mix of upper and lower case letters, as well as symbols that are found on your keyboard.
  • Do use the first letters of a long sentence (mixing upper and lower case) and then add a number (e.g., sWotrwUh239 for somewhere over the rainbow way up high).
  • Do use words that are not found in the dictionary.
  • Do not use anything containing your name or login.
  • Change your password, making it sufficiently different from the previous ones.

If someone still cracks your password (which is saved in an encrypted form) after you have taken such stringent measures to create a strong one, you must have some really valuable information that they want to get their hands on – or it’s just plain bad luck!

You may have the strongest password, but if you still insist on giving out your date of birth, your town of residence and birth, place of work, your anniversary on Facebook, along with your every like and dislike, for everyone to see, then your privacy is certainly compromised.

Backing up your computer

Backing up you computer is critical, essential and life-saving. We all have our most valuable and dear (and sometimes superfluous) information on our computers. I would be devastated if I lost precious photos of my husband and children, or the novel I secretly wrote or the teaching presentations for my classes. Let’s face it; all our important documents are on our computers. As ironic as it is, parts of our brain-power are stored in ‘bits’ and pieces on the computer.

But computers fail, hard drives die, phones are lost (or occasionally dropped into the Caribbean Blue), laptops are stolen and viruses and worms attack. And, life distracts you enough to delete a file when you were simply trying to rename it. If you have toddlers who are happily exploring the world, then document loss is also inevitable. There is also that tea/milk/soda spillage problem, too.

So save yourself the stress and heart palpitations: Back-up your important documents.

Online backup is a convenient and efficient option for the following reasons:

  • Someone else is responsible for dealing with automatic backup (for a reasonable fee of course). For example, a Norton online back-up package starts at about $50.
  • You can store all your important files (documents, photos, videos, etc.) in one place and then access them easily.
  • The file transfer of the backup files via the Internet is encrypted.
  • You can search for your files by using keywords.
  • In most cases, you can use your subscription to protect multiple computers.
  • You can increase your storage needs for an additional but affordable cost.

Many institutions back-up their employees’ documents (that could be good or bad, depending on your perspective).

General Internet safety

Viruses, worms and Trojan horses are all malware (malicious programs) that can damage your computer and wreak havoc on your life.

Viruses attach themselves to a program or file allowing them to spread from one computer to another, leaving infections in their wake. Almost all viruses are attached to an executable file, which means they may exist on your computer but cannot actually infect it unless you click on a link or open a file. So do not click any link or open any attachment in an unexpected email unless you are sure of the content and/or the sender.

Worms spread from computer to computer via the network and requires no human action (i.e., no clicking of links or opening of files are necessary to unleash the replicating process). An example of a worm is one that sends a copy of itself to everyone listed in your email contact book. Then, the worm replicates and sends itself out to everyone listed in each of the receiver’s address book, and the circle of worm-recipients continues to ripple or ‘worm’ out, consuming an enormous amount of bandwidth as it does.

A Trojan horse, like its mythical namesake, is a seemingly innocuous file that releases a surprise in the form of malware when opened by the receiver. So be wary of opening unexpected files or files contained in an email that is sent to a long list of recipients.  Who knew a wooden horse would be so ubiquitous in the 21st century.

Sending Information over the Internet (Email and Social Networking)

Here are some general guidelines collected by those that know:

  • Do not send email when angry or emotional or irritated. Once the words are sent, they remain out there at least throughout your lifetime. Assume that your boss, mom, conservative cousin, your ‘frenemy’ and the press will read it. You are responsible for your words; the ‘reply’ and ‘send’ buttons give the term ‘trigger-happy’ a whole new meaning.
  • The same goes for online comments you leave on blogs – your words can be traced back to you (or close enough to you). I have traced myself back to the actual classroom (Roddy 136) from which I am testing a network trace.
  • A dose of caution is always advisable when posting on social networks. You may (a) appear to have too much time on your hands, (b) expose a thoroughly mundane life and (c) be giving out TMPI (too much personal information). Again, assume your boss, mom, conservative cousin, ‘frenemy’ and the press are reading your posts and looking at your pictures – because in many cases they are. On the flip side, your postings may show you to be the thoughtful, well-read, witty, delightful person you really are.
  • ‘Friend’ (yes it is now a verb) your children (above 13) on social networks – they are using them, so you may as well be connected along with them.
  • Keeping your family computer in a central room is not enough to monitor your children’s online access anymore because your children are connected through other means (e.g. smart phones). The best strategy remains the traditional approach: To keep a very wide and open berth of communication between you and them. Educate yourself, educate your children and be open and frank about your concerns and care for them. “Sexting” should be part and parcel of the ‘birds and the bees’ conversation (please save your notes for my husband and me).
  • Check the privacy settings on social networking sites often because they change, sometimes without notice.
  • And, as you would not befriend a stranger on sight (in most cases), do not friend people you do not know. As bullying is unacceptable in person, it is unacceptable online. Everything you learned in kindergarten about social interaction seems to apply to social networking. Play nicely, with everyone. Be kind. Have fun. Respect. See, your parents did know more than you.
  • Oh, and before reposting those canned messages on your status, take a moment to consider if it will really add value to your avatar.
  • Just be aware, and take good care – that’s the best policy.

Author’s note: Any parent should feel free to contact me in connection with Internet safety, especially in regards to children and social network safety, at Nazli.Hardy@millersville.edu.

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