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Consumer/Individual Best Practices Basics

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By Tina J. McConnell
Director of Professional Services
Trivalent Group, Inc.

Have you ever met an IT professional for whom IT doesn’t come naturally? Well, now you have. That’s me.  If I can learn “computers” (as my mom puts it), you can, too. Here are some basics…

So, you bought a new computer. Now what? Do you pull it out of the box, plug it in, and turn it on? Or do you find the “Quick Setup” diagram (yes, it’s likely pictures) and follow the instructions? For the best experience, do the latter: find the diagram and follow the instructions. This might just prevent you from having to call someone else – like one of your grandkids – to fix what you don’t even know you broke. Do it right in the first place.

Did you know that your shiny new computer came with a number of applications (software) already installed that (a) you didn’t ask for and (b) you may not want or need? And did you know that many of these are trial versions that you will eventually need to buy if you decide to keep them? Be deliberate in your choices. If you are curious about what it is and whether you should keep it, open your web browser and type in the name of the application, the word AND, then the word “reviews.” See what others are saying about it. Make a conscious decision to either keep or uninstall the app. Find the Control Panel on your computer (often in the same place as your start up icons) and uninstall what you don’t want to keep. (Get to know your Control Panel – it’s handy.)

Before you spend too much time on the Internet, install an anti-virus program. A trial version of one has probably been pre-installed on your new computer. Read a review about it, perhaps compare it to a few others and, again, make a deliberate decision whether to keep it (and later pay for it) or download a free anti-virus program and uninstall the one you don’t want to keep. Next, keep it up-to-date; new virus definitions are released daily (or even more frequently). Schedule automated, regular scans of your computer.

Once an anti-virus program is installed and you are surfing the Web, click with discretion. Usually this means staying away from ads on browser pages. Do you really need to know which 5 foods to avoid in order to lose weight? Don’t click on an ad; instead, Google it! That fax that came to your email account? Don’t click on it!  Instead, first ask yourself a few questions: whether you are expecting a fax at all, whether you are expecting a fax from that particular address, and whether you’ve ever received a fax via email from that address before.  Do you even know the sender? If so, call him/her to ask if s/he sent you a fax via email. Only once you’ve confirmed it is legitimate should you open the document. The same goes for winning that dream trip to Hawaii – you know, the one you didn’t sign up for.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Maintain the operating system of your computer and all installed applications by also keeping these up to date. Install patches and use automatic updates, if available. Patches are released to do just that: patch vulnerabilities.

Consider using separate email addresses for things like Facebook, shopping, friends and family, bill-paying, etc. and never, never, EVER use your work email address for personal communications. You don’t want to be the user duped into clicking on a link in a personal email message and ultimately bringing down your company’s server because you’ve inadvertently infected the system. And who wants to be the person who has to give up their personal email in a legal battle because their personal and work-related messages are co-mingled? Using separate email addresses for separate functions makes it easier to close one down and open a new one if one address is compromised.

Backup, backup, backup! What can you afford to lose? What are you willing to lose? Back up important documents, photos, etc. to external drives (often USB-connected) or the cloud.

The world is a big place and there is much exploring to do; how wonderful it is that we can do so much of it from our couches and kitchen tables! Personally, I’m afraid “connectivity” has become something I don’t much want to live without! Following these few basic principles will make your journey a more pleasurable one.