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For Seniors: Laptop Security and Safety

Your computer contains valuable items in the form of data, and it’s important that you protect it from thieves and damage. You wouldn’t hand over a credit card to a stranger, and you want to protect information on your computer, just like you would your wallet.

Your laptop comes with an operating system (such as Microsoft Windows) built in, and that operating system has security features that protect your data. Sometimes that operating system has flaws or new threats appear, and you need to get updates to it to keep your laptop secure.

In addition, as you use your laptop, you’re exposing it to dangerous conditions and situations that you have to guard against.

Some files contain programs that threaten your laptop security. Such files may get transferred to your laptop when you copy them from a disc you insert into your laptop, but most of the time, the danger is from a program that is downloaded from the Internet.

These downloads can happen without your knowledge when you click a link or open an attachment in an e-mail; or you may download a legitimate piece of software without realizing that another program is attached to it. Downloads can also happen when you click on a link or image in that cute kitty picture e-mail that got forwarded to you and several dozen others.

There are three main types of dangerous programs (collectively called malware) you should be aware of:

  • A virus is a little program that some nasty person thought up to spread around the Internet and infect computers. A virus can do a variety of things, but typically it attacks your data, deleting files, scrambling data, or making changes to your system settings that cause your laptop to grind to a halt.

  • Spyware consists of programs whose main purpose in life is to track activities on your laptop. Some spyware simply helps companies you do business with to track what you do online so they can figure out how to sell you things; other spyware is used for more insidious purposes, such as stealing your passwords.

  • Adware is the computer equivalent of telemarketing phone calls at dinner time. After adware is downloaded onto your laptop, you’ll get annoying pop-up windows trying to sell you things all day long. Beyond the annoyance, adware can quickly proliferate, slowing down your laptop’s performance until it’s hard to get anything done at all.

To protect your information and your laptop from these various types of malware, you can do several things:

  • Buy and install an antivirus, antispyware, or anti-adware program. Programs such as McAfee Antivirus, Norton Antivirus from Symantec, or the freely downloadable AVG Free from Grisoft can help prevent the downloading of malicious files.

    These types of programs can detect files that have somehow gotten through and delete them for you. Remember that after you install such a program, you have to download regular updates to it to handle new threats, and you need to run scans on your system to catch items that might have snuck through. Many antivirus programs are purchased by yearly subscription, which gives you access to updated virus definitions.

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  • Some other programs, such as Spyware Doctor from PC Tools, combine tools for detecting adware and spyware. Windows 8 has a built-in program, Windows Defender, that includes an antispyware feature.

  • Use Windows tools to keep Windows up to date with security features and fixes to security problems.

  • Turn on a firewall, which is a feature that stops other people or programs from accessing your laptop without your permission.

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