This year, keep secure online
It's a new year but are you still battling the same old computer gripes?
Here's some suggestions for tech resolutions and how you can achieve them.
SUBDUE YOUR EMAIL
Feeling overwhelmed by the daily barrage of emails, or the mountain of email you have waiting to be dealt with? It's time to reclaim your inbox.
❏ Rather than flitting between emailing and your other work - and achieving little of either - set aside a block of time each day to answer and sort email. Set up an auto-reply telling people you'll get back to them later and to call you if it's urgent. Turn off email notifications, if your job allows, as these are a huge distraction.
❏ Begin your emailing time by flicking through the subject lines of emails and purging those that obviously don't interest you and don't require a response - usually auto-alert emails.
❏ Once you've opened an email decide what to do with it and take action. Either delete it, answer it or file it in a folder to reply to later. Dithering over emails wastes time and doesn't help inbox clutter.
❏ Write concise and clear emails so your recipient gets the message first time around.
❏ Read the whole email before shooting off a reply - the question you have may be answered at the bottom, or you may have further questions after reading it through.
❏ Use subject lines and folders to help you organise and easily find (and delete) emails.
CLEAN YOUR COMPUTER
Clogged and sluggish computers can cause serious frustration. Here's how to detox your PC:
❏ Defragging (an option for Windows PCs) groups parts of files, that have become fragmented in your system, together so they are easier and faster to retrieve. The defrag process varies slightly depending on which version of Windows you are running so ask Google for instructions for your specific operating system. Before you defrag make sure your operating system isn't installed on a solid state drive (SSD), as defragging can substantially shorten its operational life.
❏ Windows users can also run Disk Cleanup to identify temporary internet and other files that can be removed, for programs such as old games you don't use anymore. Again look up the specific instructions for your operating system.
❏ Mac computers automatically defrag files but users can run the Disk Utility program and click Repair Disk, which should help clean up your hard drive. To remove cached files you can download a free program called Onyx and to worm out applications you don't need, you can download AppZapper. Use Google to find detailed instructions for these tasks.
❏ You can check which applications your computer automatically opens when it boots up and remove applications you don't always use from that list to make for a speedier launch. To do this on a Windows computer, you'll need to launch the Windows System Configuration tool - ask Google for instructions. With Mac computers, you'll need to go to System Preferences, Users & Groups and then Login Items to find the list. Lightening the launch load means you will have to manually start up those applications you've removed when you need them though.
❏ While you're at it, why not give the outside of your computer a spring clean too? To get rid of the hard to reach dust and detritus in your keyboard spray it with a can of compressed air (from a computer, electronics or hardware store). Use antibacterial wipes to gently clean the tops of the keys and your mouse. To clean your LCD monitor, wipe it with a slightly damp soft cloth.
TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR PASSWORDS
Almost every online service requires a password. The result? Either you wind up using the same simple passwords for every service - not the safest option - or have a myriad of passwords you can never remember.
❏ It's probably tempting to go with something obvious when picking a password, like your pet's name or a maiden name, but for a safer option why not go with a less-obvious combination of letters and numbers that still have meaning to you? For example, you could use the initials of the title of your favourite book, movie or song, or all three, along with a date that has significance (other than your birthday). So a person who loves, for example, Bryce Courtenay's The Power Of One, Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You and bought their first home in 1998 could use TPOOIWALY1998. As a rule of thumb the longer the password, and the more variety of lower and upper case letters and symbols, the better.
❏ Use your strongest and unique passwords for your most sensitive online accounts, such as internet banking, and share a few other passwords between your less important services.
❏ Check the strength of your password using a trusted online password checker, such as Microsoft's Password Checker, The Password Meter, or the site How Secure Is My Password? - which shows you how long it would take a desktop PC to crack your password. It's probably a good idea to test a password that's slightly different to the one you intend to use, for extra safety.
❏ Remember your passwords with the help of a password manager program, which stores all your usernames and passwords for online services in an encrypted online account.
LastPass is free and available for Windows, Mac users and - at a cost - for iOS (iPhones and iPads) and Android devices.
Also recommended is 1Password (for Windows, Mac, iPhone and iPad users), which is not free - prices vary depending on how many people are using it and whether its for a computer or mobile device. One advantage it has over LastPass is that passwords are not stored over the internet, which could be less secure. Password managers are usually accessed through a master password. While undoubtedly helpful, they are still vulnerable to attack so if you're going to use them make sure your master password is, a) stored only in your head, and b) very strong.
Sources: Need a Nerd, PC Mag, Microsoft, Symantec, HowSecureIsMyPassword.net, The Password Meter, Cnet, Digital Trends, TechRadar, eHow.com.