10 o’clock list: Tech Safety Tips for You and Your Parents

ITUNES WON’T OPEN, HELP ME.

Everyone knows at least one Tech Guy (or Tech Girl). The one who’s “good at computers,” smiles and helps out when your virus-addled laptop spends more time showing you that lovely rainbow pinwheel than actually, you know, computing. As someone who managed to almost entirely replace social interaction with computers through much of elementary, middle, and early high school — you would not believe how rich I was on Neopets in fifth grade — I am that Tech Guy for most of my family and friends. Many of you are probably in the even less comfortable position of being only “okay” with computers, but being the best at them in your family, so you have all problems shunted onto you anyway. Anyone can help their unassuming families defend against malware and viruses, however; it just takes a little teaching, and the dispelling of some common misconceptions. And hey, you might learn some things yourself.

  1. The Internet isn’t a safe place — It’s hard explaining that viruses usually don’t come from mysterious Internet boogeymen, but rather from programs that turn your cursor into a cute kitty, or “GET THE SHOCKING TRUTH (DISCOVERED BY A MOM) BIG PHARMA DOESN’T WANT YOU TO KNOW!!!” popups. Many things about the Internet can be taught, but safe browsing requires intuition. Web of Trust helps, though. Conversely…
  2. The Internet isn’t out to get you  This is a common fear amongst those who didn’t really grow up with computers, but hear about cyber terrors all the time. No, you aren’t going to be hunted down and harassed by 14-year-olds from 4chan just for using your real name on your blog. Well, unless you deliberately piss them off, but that’s a whole other can of worms. You don’t have to live in constant fear of every website that isn’t Facebook, just because viruses are a thing that exist. A little help and upkeep can make the interwebs a lot less of a scary, computer-destroying place. Assure your parents that being aware is important, but being frightened is unnecessary.
  3. Macs are not virus-free  This one. This myth has caused so many problems. There are plenty of viruses that can infect computers running Mac OS. They’re not as common on account of Windows having been a lot more prevalent for many years, but the tech-as-fashion movement is growing and Macs are becoming more and more enticing targets, especially since they market to an audience that doesn’t know how to defend against malware in the first place. Even if you staunchly disagree with me, it can’t hurt to install Avast! for Mac, just to be safe.
  4. Keep your programs updated — I know it’s a hassle and it feels like you need to go through the updating song-and-dance every day, but program updates fix security holes all the time, especially in web browsers, so every update is important. Speaking of security holes…
  5. For the love of God, use a current browser — I know Internet Explorer 6 works for your dad just fine and he sees no need to use a different browser, why fix what ain’t broken, grumble grumble grumble, etc. However, in addition to being raucously unsafe, it also doesn’t support a whole lot of HTML5 and CSS3 features that make current websites slick and fun to use, so there’s more than just a nebulous security benefit. Tell him to upgrade to Chrome or Firefox, or at least use Safari or — if he must — Internet Explorer 9.
  6. An ounce of prevention… It’s always, always better to set up security measures beforehand, rather than toodling along with your computer and only contacting a techie when things get bad.  If your parents use Macs, help them set up the two utilities I listed above, and AdBlock Plus is a good safety net, to avoid sudden panic at the YOUR COMPUTER HAS A VIRUS!! type popups. On a PC, there are a few more tools available: Avast! Free Antivirus is a good start, and Spybot Search & Destroy and MalwareBytes Anti-Malware should be kept updated and run at least once a month, in addition to everything listed for Macs.

Computer safety is important! You, too, can help reduce dependency on Geek Squad and similar institutions that ridiculously overcharge to take advantage of a tech-inept public!

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