Very recent history… a virulent ‘strain’ of ransomware affected hundreds of thousands of computers – most of those in workplaces – in approximately 150 countries. Time to consider a few techniques for basic computer maintenance and protection?
There are vendors and experts who advise extreme caution during any (on-line) computer use; at times such warnings reach paranoiac levels. In many cases that’s justified. To satisfy yourself that you are taking all of the basic steps you can to protect your data – and no, such steps will not guarantee its safety – there is a three-part basic approach one can easily start with. It involves maintaining, updating, and protecting your computer. If you prefer a ‘short strokes’ video, it is on my YouTube channel. If you prefer more detail, please read on.
Computer Maintenance and Protection
Maintaining your computer won’t necessarily protect it, but it’s a good first step, and it will allow other the two other components I have mentioned – updates, and the issue of protection – to function better. Like any other complex machine, your PC requires routine (and sometimes more) maintenance. The Microsoft Windows operating system, especially since Windows 8, has built-in maintenance features that run (generally) in the background when your machine is on, but is ‘idle’.
Using Windows 10 as an example, to check your current settings, click the Start button and start to type “security“. Most likely, the best match will be Security and Maintenance. Go ahead and click it. Click the Maintenance button next. The resultant window should look like the following screen capture.
Automatic Maintenance is enabled by default. There are ways to disable it, but I don’t think that’s a wise idea and so won’t cover that here. Likewise, I feel very strongly that you should automatically allow Windows Update to download and install updates, even if, as in my case, that gives you occasional heartburn!
I talk about Updates below.
As you can see in the above screen capture, you can perform maintenance right away by clicking the Start maintenance link, or you can set an option – it’s in the Change maintenance settings link – to actually have Windows ‘wake-up’ your PC at a specific time to do the work. In any/either case, I recommend you allow Windows to perform the maintenance tasks it needs to.
Does Windows always ‘get it right’ in choosing and installing its updates for you? My answer is a qualified “yes”. I wish it were a 100% yes, but I’ve never found that to be true. But do read on, as I do talk about what to do when an update doesn’t quite work out or causes computer problems. Windows Update is part of basic computer maintenance and protection; yes, part of both of these things.
To find out the current settings for Windows Update, click the Start button and start to type “windows update“. Click the link for Windows Update settings. In Windows 10, you should see a screen similar to the one below.
Once in the Settings, Windows Update window, you’ll see right away how Windows currently handles your updates. Depending on the current build of Windows you have, the Update status and Check for updates button may not look exactly like mine. Whether or not your screen is identical to mine, similar or identical choices and preferences can be set. For example, even though I see in my screen right now that Windows updated very recently, I can still run a check for new updates. I can do that anytime I wish.
May I recommend, as mentioned before, that you allow Windows to automatically run its updates? When you get a chance to examine the Windows Update screen, click the Update history link, to review recent changes. As well, look at Advanced options, as that gives you a great deal of control over how updates are delivered or installed.
Issues Arising from Windows Update
I mentioned earlier that Update occasionally causes computer problems. There are a myriad of reasons why. Suffice to say with so many different computers out there, old and new, using so many different hardware components, and having so many configurations, it’s impossible for Microsoft to know exactly how an Update will work with your system. If you do encounter a problem after a Windows Update, there are steps you can take to fix it. What kinds of problems will you encounter? They are varied, but I’ve had two different ones over the past year or so:
- I couldn’t properly ‘see’ what was in my Start menu or screen. It’s not that everything was totally black or invisible, but it was difficult to navigate.
- Following a recent Windows Update (May 2017) a USB I use every day for the classes I teach, encrypted by Microsoft’s own BitLocker program, was unreadable. It could not be read at all on the laptop in question. I was prompted to format my USB. (Do not do that, as you’ll loose all of your files even if you can’t see them.)
Problem No. 2 caused me a great deal of concern, and as it turned out, unnecessary panic. How did I discover the problem was caused by Windows Update? Two ways. First, my version of Windows is Windows 10 Pro. At the time I bit the bullet on buying Windows 10 (though I had tested it before its final release), I decided I liked the idea of BitLocker being part of my operating system. Back to my account: I looked and looked after the Windows Update for BitLocker, but it no longer appeared at all. No BitLocker, no way to access the files on my USB. Fortunately, after an hour or two of such nonsense and a score of website, I removed the USB from the laptop and tried it in another. It worked perfectly. All files were intact.
To address the problem caused by Windows Update, I decided to ‘roll back’ the one that had installed a couple of days earlier. To do that:
- From the Windows Update window, I clicked on Update history
- In the Update history window, I clicked the link for Uninstall updates
- in the Installed Updates window, I double-clicked the most recent Microsoft Windows update to initiate the uninstall
- I rebooted my computer when I was done
A word of caution: you need to ensure, if possible, that it was in fact Windows Update that caused your problems. If you ‘roll back’ an Update, understand that whatever improvements it had made, and those might have included security fixes, will be rolled back as well. Normally, the Internet bursts alive with information when something like this happened, and within a short time, Microsoft fixes the issue(s) and you’re good to go on future updates again.
For countless years – decades – I used variations of Norton Internet Security (from Symantec) to protect my computers. It has only been within the last year that I stopped the practice personally. My decision has nothing to do with the effectiveness of Norton programs. They were, and I feel still are, very effective. Perhaps the best. My decision was based on freely available alternatives, and on performance issues.
There is no doubt at all that you should have one or more programs in place to protect you from computer viruses, malware (malicious software that can include ransomware), spyware, and all sorts of other nasty things. Almost all the nasties have to do with something online; you visited a website, you downloaded it, you opened it, or you clicked on it. There is so much destructive programming out there that everyone who surfs, who uses e-mail, who downloads, or in certain cases, who listens to streaming audio or watches online video, is vulnerable. I have never felt I was the excepted (or exceptional) one, and in fact have had computers struck by all manner of ugly things over the years.
Computer maintenance and protection should include, yes; various forms of protection. The steps you need to take to protect your computer are basic ones. In addition to maintenance processes and Windows Updates, the latter of the two especially important, you should have some kind of firewall installed, along with a robust and full featured Internet security program (again, Norton comes to mind). Right now, I have two different programs running on this laptop: Windows Firewall and Windows Defender Antivirus – Security Center. The first offers real-time protection from hackers and other bad guys trying to gain control of my PC while I’m online. The second protects me from potential viruses, spyware, malware, and so forth. Both, for me, seem to work fine. I allow both to update as and if needed. That last part is vitally important. Updates deal with new ‘strains’ of problems, which are, sadly, introduced or delivered daily.
This post scratches the surface of three basic sets of steps or processes you can follow to keep your computer healthy and, as much as possible, away from threats. Computer maintenance and protection should be a normal part of what you do with/on your PC. Many websites will help keep you apprised of the latest threats, and as I’ve suggested, new things are happening everyday. Choose credible, reliable sources if you are interested in knowing more about cyber threats. I have already mentioned Symantec and Norton, but others like McAfee and Kaspersky are among other top 10 contenders. Of course, Microsoft has you covered as well.
No matter how careful we are, or how well-maintained or protected our computers are, we can still, even if inadvertently, infect our PCs. It pays to at least do the basics!
Rob Neilly has been teaching technology and business communications to students at various colleges in the Greater Toronto Area for over 25 years. He is currently a contract professor for Seneca College, for their School of Legal and Public Administration / Office Administration. In addition to teaching, he writes business copy for clients and has at times offered social media management to his expertise. To contact him, please write to email@example.com.