13 tips to help prevent Friday 13th PC disasters

13 tips to help prevent Friday 13th PC disasters

Summary: Whether you're superstitious or not, PC disasters can strike at any time (usually when you least expect them and are most in a rush). However, over the years I have found with that with proper planning and preparations many disasters can be avoided, and those that do strike minimized.


Whether you're superstitious or not, PC disasters can strike at any time (usually when you least expect them and are most in a rush). However, over the years I have found with that with proper planning and preparations many disasters can be avoided, and those that do strike minimized.

Problem is, many people leave the planning and preparations until it's too late and they're hit by that awful "Oh shucks!" moment. Not planning for future PC disasters is like kicking a baker's dozen of black cats while walking across a bed of broken mirrors beneath a bunch of ladders.

Below I've compiled my top 13 tips to help prevent those PC disasters, both today and in the future. Don't leave the security and well-being of your PC to chance!

Enjoy ...

#13 - Backup. Backup! BACKUP!!!

I feel like I've been saying this particular mantra for almost 20 years now and still people don't listen. It's now easier than ever to make a backup of your important data and yet I get daily emails from people looking for help to recover important data from dead hard drives. If the data was that important, it should be backed up ... multiple times! CDs, DVDs, tapes, USB flash drives, hard drives, backups to cloud services ... all these methods (plus more) are available and they are cheap and easy to use.

#12 - Have secure off-site backups

A backup stored on a second hard drive installed on your PC (or worse still, a second partition on the same hard drive ... gahhhhh) is not a sensible backup solution. In fact, it's not a backup solution at all (unless stupid solutions count)!

A proper data backup needs to be able to cope with fire, theft, floods, and all those horrible total loss scenarios that haunt your nightmares and wake you up drenched in a cold sweat. If your backup plan won't cope with these kinds of disasters, it's not a backup plan!

#11 - Up-to-date virus scanner

If only I had a dime for every system I've come across that was running outdated antivirus software and loaded with malware. I remember a time when a monthly update schedule was just fine, but we're now living in very different times and a pause of a few hours in receiving updates can allow malware to gain a foothold in your system.

#10 - Run deep security scans of your systems

Don't keep on putting off those deep antivirus scans of your PCs just because they take time. If you're using the PC now schedule a scan for when you're not going to be using the PC, even if it means leaving your PC on overnight on that day. Deep scans are an important defense against systems becoming compromised.

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#9 - Scan external hard drives, USB flash drives and other temporary storage

Storage devices have become very promiscuous nowadays, hooking up with systems everywhere ... work, home, internet cafe, friend's PC ... so you need to make sure that these are check out regularly because a single USB key is all that it takes to compromise your entire system!

#8 - Invest in a good quality UPS

When most people thing of data loss the think of viruses burrowing into their systems all the deleting data in its path. The reality of data loss is far less exciting and you're far more likely to lose data due to a power dip than you are because of malware.

Invest in a good quality UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) battery backup system. Once you've got one, make sure it works by killing the power to your system and making sure that the UPS can take the load. Not only will a UPS protect your PC in the event of a power outage, most will also clean up the power entering your PC and protect from damage caused by brown-outs of voltage spikes.

#7 - Install OS updates and service packs

I know, I know, OS patches can be a real pain to apply, especially if you have to reboot the system. But that said they are a fact of life and even having one patch missing can put your system at serious risk of being compromised.

#6 - Update or uninstall old, outdated software

Software becomes outdates at an alarming rate and this old code can easily contain vulnerabilities that allow hackers to enter your digital kingdom. Problem is, keeping on top of all the software updates can be a nightmare. To help me find and update old software I use Secunia's PSI vulnerability scanner.

#5 - Use good passwords!

Unless you are going to choose good passwords then there's no point having a password in the first place. A good password is at least 7 characters long consisting on upper and lowercase letters, numbers and if you can a symbol or two.

#4 - Store your passwords safely

While the security risks of scribbling all your passwords onto a Post-It note are sometimes overrated, it is a good idea to have a place to store your passwords. I use a handy application called PasswordSafe which creates a secure digital vault for your passwords. Not only that but the app is free and you can install it onto a USB flash drive so you can carry your passwords around with you. I sync my password file with my USB drive regularly so I always have my passwords at hand.

PasswordSafe can also be used to create strong passwords for you.

#3 - Deal with little problems before they become big problems

Issues such as hard drive failures usually manifest themselves as small problems before becoming big problems - for example, clicking drives, failing SMART tests etc. Pay attention to the little problems before they become bigger issues.

#2 - Be wary of voodoo fixes

Learn to be wary of voodoo fixes that come in the form off registry cleaners, system optimizers, RAM optimizers and so on. These tools usually promise a lot but deliver very little.

Similarly, don't fall into the trap of thinking that there's some turbo boost button hidden away an only accessible by making a registry change or tweaking the services that are running. These sorts of tweaks usually have little or no positive benefit and are likely to cause more problems than they solve.

#1 - Other people

Sometimes the most destructive thing that can come into contact with your PC is other people ... and usually thse people are full of good intentions. Even professional support people seem to have very little regard for other people's data and I've seen PCs formatted before being backed up and data being rifled through.

Best advice I can give to people who really care about their PCs and their data is to learn to look after their own systems. You, ans the owner of a system, are the best person to be looking after it and applying fixes.

... after all, it's not rocket science or brain surgery!

Feel free to add your own tips!

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Topics: Hardware, Data Management, Storage

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  • HA!

    That's just a bunch superstitious malarkey. I don't believe in that hocus pocus. I laugh in the face of Friday the
  • That was good...

    But tip 11 and 10 seem irrelevant to me as a ubuntu user, I'm happy I don't have to perform endless scans and hourly updates.
    • So am I as a Windows user!

      Sleeper Service
      • Full o' shyte...

        any Windows user that says they don't have to scan their PC is full of it. Doesn't matter if you schedule the scan for real time, or after working hours, the facts are you have to do it. Period. ]:)
        Linux User 147560
        • No you don't really...

          It pretty much boils down to what you install on your machine. If you don't install malware, you don't have to worry about it.

          If you don't run as an admin all the time its amazing how much crap is defeated. There was an article about that the other day on ZDNet.
        • Over two years now

          No AV installed. I stopped manually scanning when nothing but "tracking" cookies showed up.

          Following basic security practices goes a LONG way to keeping any OS safe.
          • No AV installed???

            That's crazy. I haven't had a virus since I switched over to Firefox a few years back. But whenever a virus did raise its ugly head, it did so via pen drives and portable hard-drives that friends and colleagues brought over. I've lost count of the number of times I've plugged someone else's portable storage device into my network and found viruses. Besides, if you were only running a scan of typical sites of infection, your AV can miss a virus completely.
    • I, too, as a Windows User

      My virus scanner does all of that for me in the background at night when I'm not using my PC :)
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • Wee all know that

      you spend ALL you time just figuring out how to do common tak
      • How so?

        Enlighten me please.
  • Rifling through data is illegal

    In most states, so I don't know ANYONE who would do that, period! I wouldn't do that, every other techie (who isn't asking for trouble) wouldn't do that (even to look for CP!), and no business has a policy where they do that!
    • yes, but

      that doesn't mean that unscrupulous businesses or employees don't do it. if people didn't do things because they were illegal, we'd have no murder or robberies.
  • Wow, some common sense

    Thanks for some common sense suggestions. It's nice to see things like this because its amazing how simple little things can make the difference not only with computers but life in general.
  • I've got a BETTER idea...

    ...take the day off! :D
    • Even BETTER

      Proofread your post before making it public...gheez, is it that hard?
  • Roger on the online backups

    I recently got automated scheduled backups to the Mac mobileme.com servers started, just my documents folder. Other high-volume stuff such as that photos that doesn't change was uploaded in a one-time backup. That's why I updated to OSX Leopard, as the Time Machine hourly backup to an external drive is also included and very easy to set up and restore from. Still not running AV software on this machine, although I am considering it in light of recent reported Mac Trojans in the wild.
    Dan the Digital Dog
  • Install a Linux distro!

    When you set your laptop/desktop to boot from CD or other media selection, wiping insecure Windowes off the box.

    • Because Linux is a drag

      half ass office suite, no decent games, generally a dull unrewarding experience. I keep trying the latest distro's onlt to be disapointed every time.
  • Friday 13th February 2009...

    ...was when my Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 500Gb HDD decided to die. Utterly. Tried different cables, different SATA ports on the motherboard, restoring motherboard to default settings... nothing works.

    Thankfully not too much lost due to backups. Mainly savegames, a couple of spreadsheets (that were actually quite important, but not impossible to recreate) and time. What really bugs me is DRM in computer games - I have Red Alert 3, installed on 2 HDDs that have died on me in the last 5 months. Both times it has taken an 'authorisation' with it - think I've only got one left now! Irritatingly, you can 'de-authorise' an installation, but only if you go into the game. Might have to send the HDD off to a recovery specialist and make sure I get everything off it so I can sort this out. Doh!
  • Good solid advise

    if everyone followed it most computer techs wouldn't have a job.