Common sense

15 Dec 2010

When talking to people about computers I am often surprised at how many who forget/don’t care to/don’t know how to do a few basic things every computer user should do. So I thought I’d summarize a few tips below.

  1. Backup your data regularly.
  1. Encrypt your hard drives.
  1. Use encrypted connections when you are on a network.

Backup your data regularly!

You WILL lose your files unless you backup your files on an external media.

Think of all the family pictures, videos and all the memories that will be lost if your hard drive broke?

If you do any kind of work on your computer this gives you even more of a reason to back it up.

There are millions of ways that you can lose your files. Your hard drive can simply break, you might accidentally delete something, it might be stolen (big risk with a laptop), your house might burn down or the police might steal it.

Backup your files, and do it regularly! Preferably back it up to a location outside your house (so it won’t get stolen or burnt in case of a robbery or a fire).
There are several ways to do this, either you ask a friend to set up an FTP server on her computer to which you could upload your files (tip: store them encrypted so she can’t see your private files). In return for the favor you can offer her to backup files on your hard drive, or you could give her a disk to store your files on.
If this is to much work for you, you can try out some of the cloud storage services. Ubuntu has a built in service called Ubuntu One. Another one is Dropbox.
These services are free if you only need a few GB of data. In case you need more you need to pay a monthly fee.

Encrypt your hard drives!

What most people think the log-in screen on your computer does, encryption really does. It is easy to get past the login screen on all normal operating systems. Even if someone is unable to log in to your computer they could just mount your hard drive on their own computer and see all your files.
So if your computer is stolen or otherwise compromised it is always good to have the files encrypted. Preferably the whole hard drive.
There are several ways to do this, Ubuntu offers to encrypt your hard drives when you install it. For other operating systems there are a lot of alternatives. One example is TrueCrypt.

Use encrypted connections when you are on a network

Whenever you are using a network, and especially if you are using a wireless connection you should do your best to use encrypted connections. It is very easy to “listen” to wireless connections and steal information from you (like your Facebook password, credit card number, your chat conversations and so on).
The easiest way to avoid having your information stolen is to use the “https://”- address instead of the “http://”- address to the website you are logging in to. There is a handy "Firefox Plugin”: to help you with this!
To make sure all of your network traffic is encrypted when you are using a wireless network you can use a VPN, Virtual Private Network. This will tell your computer to send all information that is leaving your computer to first go to another computer that you trust and from that computer travel to the website/chat-server you have requested. You can either install a VPN at home, but that might get a bit complicated, or you can rent the service from a VPN provider. There are a lot of alternatives, examples are Anonine and Relakks (both are Swedish).
A VPN might also help to protect your identity on the web!

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