Ever had your computer crash on you , and you wish that you had done a backup of your important data that is now irretrievable? Have you ever had any sort of disaster with your computer that means that those photos from a once-in-a-lifetime holiday are now gone for ever, because you did not have a data backup policy? Find out here how to make sure that your data is always secure!

If you have any sort of data that you need to look after, you need to ensure that you regularly back up the data, and that you have a disaster recovery procedure in place, just in case.

Backup Media

Data including programs, documents, photos and multimedia files may be copied to Floppy Disks, CD or DVD, although you will probably find that even if you have a Floppy disk drive available, the data you need to back up takes up far too much space for this medium to be practical. As another alternative, you can obtain a separate mass storage device that can be connected to your computer in order to backup your data, then it can be stored somewhere safe. Mass storage disks can contain several hundred Gigabytes of space, so these should be enough for all but very large requirements. Sometime magnetic tape storage is used for data backups, especially for business use, as these can be  easily stored and re-used and have a very large capacity.

Backup Programs

While the PC Operating System has features that support data backup and recovery, there are lots of Third Party software products available that go beyond the basics and provide additional features to support secure data backup and recovery. Some products provide facilities for scheduling your backup process, so that you can ‘set and forget’. You can also select which files/folders will be backed up during the process, as it may not be necessary to perform the backup process for all files – e.g. your photo files that you have saved to a CD/DVD separately.

Other features of backup and recovery software:

  • Creation of a ‘recovery disk’ to allow start up of the system even if corrupted, Reading and repair of corrupted files
  • Incremental backups, i.e. the system only updates changed files to the backup area. This can be a considerable saving on disk space

Backup Process

How often you perform a data backup depends on the nature of the data, how often it changes, and how much of a risk it would be if there was a computer crash or other disaster. For some people, using the computer for personal use only, and storing such data as photos and documents, then a backup once per month may be sufficient. This could be supplemented by special backups, e.g. after downloading those holiday photos from your camera from that once-in-a-lifetime holiday. For people using their computer for business, where maybe there is financial data being stored, then a weekly or even daily procedure should be followed, to ensure that critical business data is not lost.

You should maintain a system of grandfather – father – son backups and recycle them from the oldest first, again, in order to economise on storage requirements.

System Recovery

When your computer crashes, it is possible that the system may either have died completely, or may start up with some functions still working. It is of course important to try and determine the cause of such computer crashes before trying to use the system again, a it may just crash a short time later. Operating Systems have various diagnostic software and computer logs, if available, should be examined to determine what unusual events could have caused the failure.  Some data recovery programs have the facility of creation of a special CD/disk that contains all the critical system programs to enable a start-up. This is a really useful facility if you can do this, as it will save a full disk re-format and reload, even if you have a full set of backups to restore your system. An alternative process for system recovery, is where the data backups consist of complete disk images, so all that is required is to reformat and restore the disk contents.

Regular and organised backups of your data will provide an essential tool to enable recovery in the event of a computer disaster, and all users should ensure that they have a data backup policy that is put into practice.

Here’s some advice about creating strong passwords. Passwords that are strong enough to resist hacking by unauthorised people yet easy enough to remember are an essential part of your computer security, whether for use on a local computer that is used by several people, or when logging in to a banking or shopping site on the Internet.
When thinking about passwords, the tendency is to find a neat password and use it for everything, mainly because it’s easier to remember. NO! No! No! Although you could argue that one secure password is better than lots of insecure passwords, if someone cracks your password, they can get into everywhere you have used it. It is much better to have unique passwords, especially if you bank online, or regularly use the internet for shopping or use other programs where there is sensitive data being used or displayed.

Passwords must be unique and should be at least 8 digits long, preferably 12 with both letters and numbers. If you have a secure place to store it, a neat little trick is to use a Rolodex, or revolving card index, to store your passwords. No problem trying to remember your passwords any more – keep the Rolodex right by your computer (as long as it is not left on your desk in an open office!), and it takes just seconds to flip to the password you’re looking for. There are password management software programs available, but I am never sure how secure these really are. If you have a simple tool for password retreival, you can be really creative in your passwords. You are no longer going to be using the same password. You’re going to make up new ones every time you join a new program or find a new shop on the Internet. Nothing will protect you more than this. This is the way to create strong passwords secure enough to keep the toughest hackers at bay.

Let me give you some examples of creation of strong, secure passwords. Take a look around your desk. You might find a Untility bill, 3 pens and a stapler. Okay, so how about creating a strong password as util3staples. That’s 12 characters. Let’s make the password even more secure. My Utility bill is £57. How about changing the password to 57util3staples. That is now a 14 character password that would be hard to crack. There is nothing in there that relates to you, your dog, your birthdate, your house number, your post code. Now that’s a perfect password.

Most passwords are case-sensitive, so you could capitalise a letter, for instance in the example above we could change it to 57uTil3stAples. Another way for further sophistication for secure passwords, is to convert letters to numbers that look similar, such that you can still read the word. Thus a letter ‘O’ becomes the number zero, a letter ‘S’ becomes the number 5, and so on. If you keep your creative hat on, there is plenty of scope for creating secure, strong passwords!

What Are Anti Virus Software, Anti Spyware Software & Computer Firewalls & What Can They Do For You?

Now that most people use the internet these days, it is a very good idea to make sure that you have good quality computer security software installed and protecting your computer. Anti virus software, anti spyware software and having a hardware or software firewall are now essential for everyone using a computer and here is an explanation why this is so.

Anti Virus software protects your computer from virus threats that can contaminate your computer and can slow down your computer, damage your files or even damage your computers hard drive requiring you to reformat your hard drive and needing to reinstall your operating system in order to get things back to normal. So as you can see anti virus software is an essential thing to have if you want to keep your computer healthy and free from viruses.

It is not enough just to install the anti virus software however, you will also need to keep it up to date in order to protect your computer from new anti virus threats, fortunately this is easy to do as most anti virus software programs let you update their anti virus files over the internet.

So what is anti spyware software exactly? Well anti spyware software is another kind of security program which protects your computer against all kinds of undesirables, such as spyware, keystroke loggers, malware, tracking cookies, dialers, trojans and unwanted commercial software. All of these things should be removed from your computer so that your computer security is not compromised. A good quality anti-spyware software program will protect your identity from unscrupulous people, hackers and fraudsters so that you can have peace of mind.A computer firewall is either a software program or a hardware device which only allows authorised users to access your computer system and stops all unauthorized users from gaining access to your computer through the internet or a network. So a firewall stops malicious users from accessing your system and this is absolutely essential if you use the internet, especially if you have an always on broadband connection on your computer.

So which is better to have a software firewall or a hardware firewall? Well a software firewall will give you good firewall protection, but the absolute best firewall to have is a hardware one because this is even harder to get past for a malicious user.

So in summary, if you do not already have an antivirus program, an anti spyware program and a firewall, then you really should look into getting these things as they will save you a lot of hassle and worry in the future.

Here’s some advice about computer housekeeping!

6 jobs to do regularly to keep your computer in top shape:

  1. Empty your ‘Recycle Bin’ – When you delete a file, it does not disappear permanently into cyberspace, it stays on your disk in the ‘Recycle Bin’, just in case you deleted it by mistake. At least once a week, you should empty your Recycle Bin completely, to ensure that it does not get clogged up with all your computer rubbish.
  2. If you want to remove a program from your computer, make sure you use the ‘Add/Remove Programs’ function (via Control Panel) rather than just deleting the files you can see. If you don’t use the proper procedure, you will leave debris littered all over your disk!
  3. Make sure you delete files and emails that you no longer need. They are taking up valuable space on your disk! I know you may have xxx gigabytes of storage on your disk – they are very big these days – but good housekeeping says keep only what you need!
  4. If you have done a major computer housekeeping operation and deleted and/or moved a lot of files at once, it may be a good idea to check your disk to see if it needs De-fragmenting. You can find this function among the ‘performance and administration’ tools in the Control Panel. When lots of files have been moved around and/or deleted, this leaves spaces on the disk that may not be usable properly or efficiently. This function shuffles the files around on the physical disk to make sure that all the space can be used efficiently in future.
  5. If disk space is really tight, and you have already performed the other housekeeping tasks in this list, it might be time to use Compression on your files. File Compression changes the structure of the files so that they take up less space on the disk, although there may be a performance penalty by doing this. It is best to use compression only on files that are not used very often.
  6. Use a Registry Cleaner. The registry is the database that is used in Microsoft Windows to store information about each program that is installed in the computer, and its current status. A Registry Cleaner scans your system, especially the registry, and allows you to correct and/or remove any errors found due to bad housekeeping. Using a Registry Cleaner program regularly should have a significant effect on improving the performance of your computer system.

Well, one of my websites was hacked last week, just before the story broke about Talktalk, so I thought I would just document my experience and let people know the lessons I learned about website security.

I have been doing a lot of editing on the site that was affected (Not this one), and I first noticed there may be a problem, when it was taking ages for any of my edits to be saved, and it was even slow just selecting menu options in the control panel of my WordPress site. Now there are a number of possible reasons for slow response, such as:

  • Computer problem
  • Internet Connection
  • Website Server traffic
  • Website Themes/plugins
  • Local viruses or malware
  • Server-viruses or malware

I therefore had to work through these to eliminate them in turn to see which was the root cause. The first two potential causes were eliminated by trying a different computer on a different internet connection, which resulted in the same slow response. I was using anew and complex wordpress theme, so I thought maybe it was this that was causing the problem, although the fact that the whole WordPress control panel was slow seemed to eliminate the theme as the source of the problem. I had run my local anti-virus/malware scan and that yielded no problems, so it looked like it was probably a website server issue.

I then contacted my website hosting service, to see what they said about this. Their initial response was ‘there is a high traffic load on the server at present, response is just due to high traffic’. I was not sure about this, so I started to look in more details into the response, using a very useful website at www.gtmetrix.com . This site allows anyone to get a detailed analysis of the response time of any website (for free!) and was crucial to this investigation. I could now see that there were significant delays during the loading of any page, that were not explainable by any of the above issues except the delays must be originating server-side. I went back to the hosting service with this data, and eventually they found that one of the files in my website code had some unexplained binary code in it, that must be malicious and must be causing the delays.

At this point they then acted very fast, and suspended the website, backed-up and then deleted all the code on the site, and told me to create a new WordPress instance and restore the database content (this was not corrupted). Eventually I restored everything and the site was now running fine.

Lessons learned from this incident:

  • I don’t know what the binary code that we found was doing to my website, but it was obviously doing some processing that was taking up a significant amount of processing power when accessed. The site affected did not have any personal information stored – the only user information was for testing purposes – Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck were my two test customers, so that wasn’t much use to them, even if they did manage to capture it!
  • Ensure your website is protected from hackers getting into your code, by using security plugins! Ironically, I did have a security plugin installed, but I temporarily deactivated them while installing another plugin as there seemed to be some interaction causing a problem. The hacker must have got in while I was doing this! I use a plugin called ‘Wordfence’, which seems to have the right level of security features for my needs, and also has several add-on features, such as a ‘Maintenance Mode’ switch and caching/speed-up features , and I did resolve the problem that led me to deactivate Wordfence as the problem was nothing to do with this plugin in the end.
  • If you do store personal information regarding customers, or even if it is just details of those who post comments etc., make sure it is encrypted so that it is no use to the hackers if they get hold of it. It seems that Talktalk had a significant amount of information about their customers that was not encrypted, and this is often the default design for simple WordPress sites that use a simple plugin or HTML/PHP code for a contact form – be careful and check how the data is stored before choosing such a plugin to capture your users’ data. Even if you use a separate payment processor such as Paypal to go capture and process payment details, your site may capture names and email addresses that need protection.
  • Ensure you have backups of your website code to enable you to restore the site if there is a problem. It does not take very long to create a backup, unless you have a very large website, and in fact the larger the website the more important it is to maintain regular backups!
  • It is not just the big companies that are targeted by the hackers – I suspect these attacks are sent out to large numbers of domain names at random, and automatically, so one day it may be Talktalk that is hit and the next it is a small website like mine!
  • If you have an unexplained change in the responsiveness of your website, follow the steps I went through to try and isolate the problem – remember it may not be hackers causing the problem, but it could be!
  • Hackers are determined but misguided people who love to just cause havoc with websites and other IT services and will get into your code using as many means possible to achieve their distorted objectives. This doesn’t mean we should refuse to trust any websites that store our personal information, but keep following the guidelines published by the websites that you use, regarding setting passwords and other security practices in order to make it as difficult as possible for the hackers to get in.