Free Tech Support - Computer Questions and Answers - Ask Bob Rankin Sorry if this sounds unsympathetic, but most computer problems are caused by users. There are a few basic steps you can take to avoid malware infections, data loss, and performance issues. Too often, people try to save time or money by cutting corners, and they end up paying the price. Check out my list of common computing mistakes, and how to fix (or even better, avoid) them. Read on... Seven Computing Mistakes to Avoid Here are seven of the most common computing mistakes, and some tips on corrective action you can take today. SECURITY: Failure to use anti-malware and firewall protection is like leaving your door open and your wallet on the table. Viruses, spyware, trojans, keyloggers, rootkits and other malware are ubiquitous, and they can enter a computer through many different channels. The damage that malware can do ranges from minor annoyance to data loss to identity theft. The latter can take years to remedy and cost thousands of dollars. It's been shown that a computer left unprotected can be infected within minutes after going online! Protecting yourself against malware should be a high priority. There really is no excuse for not using an effective anti-malware program. I have reviewed many of them here, and all are available in free versions. HOW TO FIX IT: See Free Anti-Virus Programs HOW TO FIX IT: See Free Firewall Protection PASSWORDS: Is your online banking password "123456" or "abc123"? Do you use the same password for ALL of your online accounts? Weak or predictable passwords make it easy for hackers to plunder your bank account or hack your email. Here are some tips to help you create and manage strong, hacker-proof passwords... HOW TO FIX IT: See Is Your Password Strong Enough? HOW TO FIX IT: See The Best Password Managers OPERATING SYSTEM: Keeping Windows up to date is also a critical security chore, and one that too many users skip. Hackers discover new vulnerabilities in the world's most popular operating system every month, and Microsoft issues critical security updates of Windows and other MS applications as fast they're fixed. Obtaining this free protection is as easy as enabling Automatic Updates in Windows; just set it and forget it. HOW TO FIX IT: See Microsoft Windows Update Website SOFTWARE: Application software also needs to be kept up to date and secure. Many malware packages target vulnerabilities in Microsoft Office, Adobe Reader, Java, and other popular applications. Automatic updates are available for many applications, and they should be enabled so you can easily receive security updates. Manual checks for updates should be performed at least monthly if automatic updates are not available. HOW TO FIX IT: See Keeping Software Updated Simply DOWNLOADS: When downloading and installing new software, you're often presented with an endless series of 'Next' or 'OK' buttons. You might be tempted to mindlessly click through them, just to get it over with. But that can lead to some nasty surprises. Here are some things to be aware of when downloading, and a nifty tool that makes the process simpler and safer... HOW TO FIX IT: See Downloading? Watch Out For These Danger Signs HOW TO FIX IT: See Finally: The End of Next, Next, Next... WIRELESS: If you use any wireless devices at home (smartphone, tablet, e-reader, laptop) you need to make sure your wireless router is secured. Failure to do so can give unauthorized persons access to your files, or the ability to use your Internet connection for illegal purposes. You may even be legally liable if you don't lock down your router. If you use public wifi on a mobile device, there's another set of things you need to watch for. HOW TO FIX IT: See Wireless Network Security Checklist HOW TO FIX IT: See The Problem With Free Wifi Hotspots BACKUPS: Backing up your data is probably the most neglected computing safety chore. And a backup can bail you out of so many problems, whether it be be hardware failure, a software glitch, a virus, or human error. The backup tools built into Windows 7 and 8 will do an adequate job of backing up just your data or your entire hard drive. But there are better (even free) backup utilities and online storage services for your backups. Don't forget about the important stuff on your smartphone and tablet -- they need to be backed up too. And what about your online accounts -- Facebook, Twitter, and email? If you don't have a comprehensive plan to safely backup all your data, you need to start on that today. HOW TO FIX IT: See Do You Have a Backup Strategy? The biggest mistake most users make is assuming that the worst will never happen to them. Paying attention to these essential tasks can prevent a myriad of computing problems. Follow the links above and learn how to protect yourself from viruses, identity theft, data loss and sluggish performance. Have you made any of these mistakes? Can you think of other common computing mistakes?