13 tips to help prevent Friday 13th PC disasters

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.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

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If only I had a dime for every system I've come across that was running outdated antivirus software and loaded with malware.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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