CLEANING UP YOUR COMPUTER - PC Tips
some useful information to safeguard your computers - by Palden Jenkins, January 2004
[and some additions from Ralph, R a i n b o w Network Cambridge]

palden.jenkins@mail.btopenworld.com

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Dear friends,
I sent this out to my friends today, and thought I'd send it to you for your lists, if it's useful and you haven't sent one like this round recently.  I'm not copyright-fussy on this e-mail, and not a great expert, only a hard user who just went through the mangle!
All the best to you, from a grey and actually-should-be-colder-but'y'know-climate-changed England!
Palden Jenkins

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Dear friends

Sorry about this longish, unsolicited e-mail. Read it only if you use MS Windows and are concerned about your computer's security, and if you feel you perhaps haven't done enough towards it.

I have recently had major computer problems (wipe-out!). In my case this arose from 'damaged DLLs' in Windows - it took three full days of reinstalling Windows ME and all programs to fix it. So here are some tips on what I have learned. It is worth doing these security measures if your computer is getting slow or crashes, if you don't like online intrusions or, if like me, you're involved in 'interesting' activities.

- When you install any program, make sure you keep its serial number - keep the e-mail in a dedicated box, and also establish a (paper) book with your serial numbers, passwords and other critical data. This saves you having to contact the suppliers or re-buy software if/when things go wrong (which they do).

- Backup. Always back up your stuff. If you arrange your computer so that all your work is easily found, back up onto a zipdisk or writeable CD. If you don't, you will one day pay a big price.

- If you don't have virus-protection (pref Norton or McAfee), you're dancing with computer-death! Keep it updated well, and do a complete virus-check at least once a month, and whenever you feel susceptible. Some servers (such as BTOpenworld) are now doing virus-protection, but have your own too. Set your virus protection program to do automatic updates, since new viruses can be nifty and aggressive.
[ I use the free "AVG Anti-Virus" checker every day, which gets updated about once a week - see http://free.grisoft.com/download - Ralph]

- E-mail. I use Eudora ( www.eudora.com) instead of Outlook Express, because many viruses are geared to attack Microsoft products (though this is now declining in favour of fraud - which is why the Windows Update note below is important, to eliminate security weaknesses in your programs). Using a non-Microsoft e-mail program means you bypass many of the viruses, worms and other attacks geared at MS products. If you wish to continue using MS Outlook or Outlook Express, see the Windows Update note below.

- I have found Norton SystemWorks very useful. It maintains all the internal links, registry structure and health of your computer - preventing crashes, tangles or weaknesses. It sits well alongside Norton Anti-Virus. If you search on the Web, you might be able to get a cheap package deal of both programs (sometimes software dealers off load last year's version at a cheap price and, once installed, you can get the latest updates to upgrade it).

- It is important to do a full Windows update. Go to START/Windows Update and go through the process of downloading security updates and other upgrades to Windows products - there's also a download section for MS Office products. If you're on a pay-for phone line, do this during cheap-rate time, since you possibly have megabytes of downloads to do. It's really worth it.
- If you don't want to do that, then get BigFix, a free download from www.bigfix.com, which will internally analyse your computer, flash up things you need to download or do, and install them for you [you need to search for the downloaded file bf1760.exe or bf1760(1).exe or later versions in your PC and run it to install Big Fix - I am impressed with the free update service! - Ralph]. It keeps you busy in the first few weeks, then settles down (once this is done, you can uninstall BigFix if you find it slowing your computer).

- Firewalls. Very important. A firewall stops hackers and their programs from getting in without your permission. Norton and McAfee do firewalls at a price, or you can get a good free one at www.sygate.com [the free download "Sygate Personal Firewall" is hidden in the "Contact us" link] . With a firewall, you must 'train' it at first - when you go online, it flashes up options to accept or reject connection with your ISP and other places you visit, but this settles down after a while.

- Windows settings. In 'Internet Options', go through the security, privacy and content options. I recommend setting to reject or ask about third-party cookies, but to accept other cookies. Do a manual cookie clean-up periodically - manual because some are useful and important for you.

- Spyware, data-miners etc. These are insidious - you'll be shocked how much of this is in your computer. They come with emails and when you're cruising the Web. Many of them are just commercial 'data-miners' that watch where you go on the Web, and send info elsewhere about it, with the main disadvantage of slowing your computer and trying to go online when you don't want it. Some are spyware, lodged with you by hackers, intel services and others. Get rid of it! Try getting Ad-Aware ( www.lavasoft.de ) which eliminates them - don't just do the 'smart' search, but go into the 'customise' setting and set it for the full whack. Very valuable.
[all my friends recommend "SpyBot" - www.spybot-search.com - Ralph]

- Popup blockers. These stop unwanted popups when you're cruising the web - they're annoying, and some download programs and spyware into your computer. You can download a free blocker from www.safeguardprotect.com - ah, relief!

- Spam-blockers. Spam-blocking programs can filter for spam, but they can also slow you down. I've chosen not to use one - especially since useful forwarded messages (such as my own) with a longish list of recipients can be blocked too. On my own and some other ISPs they do spam-blocking, which catches 80-90% of it. If you get regular spams from a recognisable source, you can establish a filter or 'message rule' in your e-mail program that automatically consigns the e-mail to the bin. Don't reply to spams, even to 'unsubscribe' - this can be taken by spammers to constitute permission to send other crap. This problem will eventually get solved on an industry-wide level. To handle the legal spammers and callers, you can enlist on the Direct Marketers' Assn lists for phone, fax and e-mail - in UK go to www.tpsonline.org.uk and register on all their 3-4 different lists. If you have a website and do search-engine registration, it can be worth opening a special free e-mail address to receive junkmail.

[Never put your e-mail address on a public notice board or a web page! It gets harvested by e-spam search crawlers, will be sold internationally ("2 million e-mail addresses for only $20") and after a year you will see your junkmail increase considerably - Ralph]

- General detritus. Over time, your computer can get clogged with general clutter after a few years. Simple fixes are done by using Windows Disk Cleanup in Programs/Accessories/System Tools, or a Norton cleanup in SystemWorks. However, a deeper trawl and cleanup can be done with Cleaning Agent, found at www.tucows.com/highlight_B-preview.html

There might be more, and others might have other opinions but, if security matters to you, the above measures will sort you out quite well. Good luck!

Palden

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