Writing to French physicist Jean Baptiste Leroy some 223 years ago, 83-year-old Benjamin Franklin reported that the young American republic was under way: “Our Constitution is in actual operation. Everything appears to promise that it will last; but in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.”
Were Mr. Franklin writing today, he might well add “disasters” to that list of “certain” happenings. As the events of the past two weeks illustrate, disasters can happen, even to the most prepared among us.
Most American computer users dodged a bullet July 9, the so-called “Malware Meltdown” day when the FBI turned off safe computer servers that routed users whose computers were infected with the “DNSchange” malware to the proper Internet sites. If your computer had the malware and it hadn’t been cleaned, you were out of luck until your service provider or IT department helped get you back online.
As noted, most of us escaped unscathed; only a few thousand computers, if that many, were affected. A week’s worth of warnings on radio, television and online steered most people to safety before the FBI cutoff.
Before that, of course, the sudden June 29 “derecho” storm knocked out electrical power, took down home computers and severed Internet connections, as well as putting the “server farms” that supported operations of Netflix, Instagram and Pinterest out of commission. For those three companies, and others, the last thing you would want is to be off-line, and yet it happened, however briefly.
So what can you do to stay protected? Several things spring to mind.
• Know disaster will strike. I’m not trying to be a prophet here, just sensible. Computers are, by and large, mechanical devices still, and many will break at some point. When they do, you can lose data, and sometimes that data will be more valuable than the hardware. (Even with the advent of solid-state flash memory-based “hard drives,” there’s still some potential for data loss, however slight.)
Knowing that disaster will strike, you’ll want to be prepared. Have your data backed up, either locally - with an external hard drive and backup software found in operating systems such as Microsoft’s Windows or Apple’s Mac OS X - or in the cloud using services such as Carbonite.com or Mozy.com, to name two. For small businesses especially, having good backups is essential.
• Protect your computer against viruses and malware. This entails two steps. One is to have good anti-virus software installed on your computer: I like Symantec’s Norton products for Windows-based systems and ZeoBit.com’s MacKeeper for Mac-based systems. There are other good anti-virus companies out there as well. The main thing is to have your computer scanned regularly to avoid problems. This can be set up as an automatic function, and it’s worth it, in my view.
Also important: Keep the anti-virus software up to date, using the update features of the program and/or operating system.
Along with the anti-virus software, be smart about your email and other online links. If something is unfamiliar, or “too good to be true” (and, I promise, neither the FBI nor the United Nations is sending out emails promising million-dollar payouts to you), then trash the email. Delete it, don’t clink on any links, do not pass “Go,” and do not inherit a virus, malware or a “bot” that will mess up your machine.
The same applies to bizarre items on Facebook; my friends don’t want me to buy women’s shoes or handbags. Clicking on these links, maliciously posted by those who gain access to some Facebook accounts make you a victim. Run away, and quickly.
• Don’t imagine you are immune. This is the most important point of all. You may very well be fortunate and not have a serious problem for years. But anything can happen, so your best protection is to be vigilant, have a backup, use the right, up-to-date software and be careful. It’s a rough world out there!
• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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