Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Or do it the sensible way: Top 5 tips

Since the last post was all about the potential madness of computer cleaning, I thought I might give some saner tips, indeed, here are the top 5 (as ranked by Robo-Bobo) more safe tips for cleaning your computer, chosen for the cleaner who wants a lighter touch:


(And don't just download the one that comes in a pop-up ad, those usually have spyware attached to them, there a couple legitimate free ones (most famously Spybot Search and Destroy), although they tend to be less effective than the more expensive ones (although they are free), but whenever you download free software GO TO THE COMPANY OR FOUNDATION'S HOMEPAGE. Many times malware will be bundled with free-ware, but well-respected foundations and companies tend to avoid that (with some exceptions like some music companies (cough, cough, Sony BMG), it's best also to search the web for info about anything you download before you put it on your computer.)

I personally use Webroot's Spyware Sweeper


(Same warnings as with the spyware scanner, although the truth is virus scanners often have limited effectiveness once the virus is on your computer (especially since the scanner is usually the first target of the virus). However, the best virus scanners also give you warnings about when you're about to download, open, install or transfer virus-infected items (one of the reasons I like my current sweeper).)

I personally use Eset's Nod32


The scanners sometimes have some automatic warnings even without being used, but not scanning is just a waste of good software! And also your computer will get infected, oh yeah, that too. Doesn't matter if you think your safe or you think you have good computer practices, spyware (and to a lesser extent viruses), happen (in fact, if your spyware sweeper is turning up nothing constantly, that probably means that the sweeper is infected).

4. Clear privacy info off your browsers.

Companies, even ones that pledge to do no evil (I have mixed feelings about Google, especially now that a friend works there (shout-out to Jean Hsu!) and especially since I use a lot of google tech which alternately impresses and frustrates me, but that's another session), will attempt to track your web-habits. This is a fact of life. Moreover, sometimes companies (a more rare happening, but sometimes, especially with some of the more unscrupulous background checkers for employment) will go a little further and try to actually connect your real-world identity to what you do on the web and what you have on your computer. It sucks, but that's how the internet is. So go to Tools or Options or whatever, and clear your privacy data, including (actually, although by default this usually isn't selected, it is the most vulnerable area) cookies.

5. Clear out your "temp" and "temporary internet files" folders.

Most of this ought to have been cleaned out by clearing privacy data, but it usually isn't. Finding these folders is a bit tricky for newbies (I've been assuming Windows throughout, especially since most spyware and viruses are designed for Windows, but this particular matter is Windows-specific. I'm a newbie at Linux, and while I'm capable in Mac OS (and actually have a certain preference for it), it has been a while since I've cracked into the nitty-gritty of how to clean Macs (beyond the previous steps)).

Essentially this is what you must do:

First, you need to enable viewing hidden folders:
1. Open "My Computer" from the "Start" menu
2. Go to "Tools" (in the top menu bar)
3. Click on "Folder Options"
4. Click on "View"
5. Find the "Hidden Folders" folder in the scroll bar, click on it to open it, if it isn't opened already.
6. Click on "Show hidden files and folders"
7. Click "Apply" in the bottom right corner
8. Close the the "Folder Options" menu, now you should be able to see all your folders and files

Second, you need to go to the user profiles:
1. Open the "Local Disk (C:)" folder (I'm assuming your still in the "My Computer" window, if not, get back to it)
2. Open "Documents and Settings"

Third, for each of the profile folders, you need to do the temp file cleaning, but here's the essential pattern:
1. Open the profile folder (ie, the folder with the name of one of the profiles on your computer)
2. Open "Local Settings" (you may notice that this folder is semi-faded, that's because usually it's hidden)
3. Open "Temp"
4. Delete all the files in that folder (though do not delete the folder itself, it is a natural part of your computer, however if you mess up and do delete it, the folder should regenerate naturally)

(note sometimes you might not be able to delete some of these temp files, usually it will say file is being used. You should then try closing some applications and trying again, or trying again on a different day, but sometimes there will be files you just can't delete. Sometimes that is just a harmless fact of how your applications work, but often it signals that there are processes that you didn't start in the background which might be problematic)

5. Go back to "Local Settings"
6. Open "Temporary Internet Files"
7. Delete everything in that folder (same warnings as with the "Temp" folder
8. Repeat for each of the profiles

Now deleting these temp files can sometimes free up a huge amount of disk space, but even if it doesn't it makes your computer more secure. However, the files will naturally regenerate with time, so continue to get rid of them.

6. Don't accumulate junk it the first place

I know this was supposed to be top 5 cleaning tips, but here's a bonus tip, practice safe internet! Avoid downloads from sites you don't know or which have suspicious reputations (cough, cough Don't accumulate excess software (and if you do, remove some via your control panel's Add/Remove Programs). Do not open emails from people you don't know (even if it says charity this, or job offer that). Do not click on links to sites you don't know or if you're in a suspicious site to start with.

(actually avoid suspicious sites in general, that means you free porn sites (if you must have porn, go to a legitimate porn company with a respectable (relatively) reputation (and no I'm not going to list any of those companies)

(the less reputable ones also have the ugly habit of taking over your browser, if this happens, go to the task manager (Ctrl-Alt-Del) and click on the process that matches your browser (say firefox.exe) and end it (actually this might not in Internet Explorer (I don't usually use it so I haven't tried), since IE is hard-wired into the Windows Operating System (in a rather monopolistic move, which if not illegal, is at least supremely a douche-move)))

(this is where I feel Apple's Safari Browser, despite its easy-of-use and speed, falls short of the Firefox Browser, since Firefox allows you to see where a link leads by just leaving the mouse over the link, whereas Safari (at least, last time I checked it out, which to be truthful was sometime ago, so updates may have changed things), does not. Internet Explorer also has this feature, but IE is so bug-ridden, so security-problematic, so violating-of-all-sensible-web-standards (although IE is getting better in this respect), that I don't even consider it as an alternative in web browser choices. However, Opera Browser is always a reliable second in my book to Firefox, although it is a bit feature-heavy with some unfamiliar-quirks for my taste, but it is a nice browser indeed.)

Anywho, the basic law of preventing junk from cluttering up and undermining the security of your computer is... be cautious and use common sense. There are a lot of tricky and hidden ways to attack a computer, but most malware goes through the front door, so shut it. Or in less-metaphorical terms, if there's some action which seems like it would make your computer vulnerable, DON'T DO IT!

And if you do do it anyways, well, don't blame a certain robotic koala for not warning you.

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