PC Doctor August 21, 2009

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Dear PC Doctor, 
    During the last thunderstorm, my brother admonished me for working through the storm on my desktop computer. According to him my computer is just waiting to be fried by a local lightening strike. He recommended that I should shut down my computer, as well as unplugging it from the outlet. Do I need to be this paranoid? Plus I use a surge protector, shouldn't that offer enough protection? 
Hey Joseph,
    Your brother is correct on this one. Leaving a computer plugged into an outlet, even if the computer is powered down; presents a risk of permanent damage to the computer. The danger is voltage spikes. Voltage spikes are short, higher than normal line voltage fluctuations. Thunderstorms are a chief contributor to these fluctuations, but many large appliances contribute as well. Refrigerators, generators, pumps, and electric tools are good examples. Such equipment can create voltage fluctuations to the Power lines by simply powering the appliances on and off. This is where your surge protector comes into play. A surge protector regulates the voltage flow, but it can only handle the minor spikes such as ones received from a refrigerator or a distant thunderstorm. It will be useless against a close proximity strike. Does that mean you should shut down and unplug everythingupon the sound of a faint rumbling in the distance? It's totally up to you. A good surge protector (available at any computer retail store) should protect you from most minor power spikes, but it's not a Fort Knox barrier, there is always a risk. You should in the very least consider taking measures if the storm is bad or is directly overhead. What measures can you take? First unplug the computer from the outlet. Then unplug anything that has some kind of connection to the computer; including printers, modems, and phone lines. Doing this will eliminate any risk of a voltage spike from accessing the computer. Safe computing.
Dear PC Doctor,
    One is always hearing of identify theft on the news and such. My concern is as I'm always using public computers, such as ones at the Athol Library or internet cafes, that I'm a potential target for such a case. What steps can I take to keep my information safe?
Dear Concerned,
    Are public computers safe? In the case of the Athol Library's computers, where we do regular virus scans, updates, and cleaning, the factor is low. But any networked computer has a risk factor, personal or public. It really depends on how you use them. Follow these tips to do your part in smart computing. 
    First off login information - Never select the option to save your login information for any accounts; such as e-mail, online shopping, or social networking accounts. Keep an eye out, as some logins will automatically select this option for you. Instant messaging applications are a good example of this. 
    Second - Always log out of an account. Simply closing the internet browser will not log you off. Always click "Logout" and then close the browser.     
    Third - Wipe your history. Internet browsers keep a record of your passwords and website visits, even after closing the browser. To delete these records find the Tools option in your internet browser. Under this option select "Delete Browsing History." You will then be given several records to delete, such as Passwords, History, and Cookies. Select and delete all records. This process is consistent across most popular internet browsers. 
    Finally, avoid entering sensitive personal information into a public computer. Yes, you can delete the default records, which protects you from a low key hacker. But certain software, dubbed key loggers, can be installed on unprotected computers. These key loggers record every keystroke you make, providing a professional thief a means of finding banking account info, credit card numbers, and social security numbers. If you absolutely need to enter sensitive info, inquire of the proprietor what security measures are in place. Stay secure!
PC Doctor
Until next time… happy computing!