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Time for some program updates

If you haven't updated your program files in a while, some significant programs have been updated in the last few weeks and months. It's time to update these programs if you haven't lately:

These updates are important to the security of any Windows-based computer.
There are a lot of tasks that computer users should really -- in an ideal world -- be doing every single week. The pressures of life, however, inevitably keep us from doing them regularly enough. As a substitute, then, many people would be well-served to adopt a policy of doing some computer "housekeeping" once a week, and rotating through four essential tasks. That way, none of those tasks go more than a month without getting done. It's imperfect, but it's far better than the common alternative -- never doing any of them at all.

The first week of every month, one should run a complete backup of personal information on the computer's hard drive. This is usually best done straight to a portable hard drive, and run overnight when it won't affect any users. Once every few months, one should go a step farther and burn the really essential files (financial files, family photos, important e-mails) to a DVD, and send that DVD somewhere far away for safe keeping. This step is important because there's always the risk -- no matter how low, it's ever-present -- that one's home and entire community could be destroyed in a massive disaster, like the tornadoes that hit Joplin, Missouri, or Parkersburg, Iowa. Having a solid-state backup (like one burned to a DVD) of the really essential files somewhere far away guarantees that those most precious files won't be lost forever, even if everything else in the home is gone. An easy rule of thumb: Find a bank in a town at least 100 miles away from your home, but someplace you're likely to visit at least a couple of times a year, and rent a safe-deposit box there. Whenever you're in town, drop off your latest DVD in the box and walk away knowing that your most precious data is safe and sound behind lock and key.

The second week of every month, check for updates to the programs on your computer. This includes programs like the Internet browsers Firefox and Chrome, mail programs like Thunderbird, office suites like LibreOffice, and the add-on programs that make other programs work, like Adobe Flash Player. This task falls to the second week because it should always follow a data backup.

The third week of every month, install the latest Microsoft updates issued on Patch Tuesday (the second Tuesday of every month). This advice obviously doesn't pertain to Apple or Linux users, but they too should practice good housekeeping by looking for operating-system updates at least once a month. Microsoft, though, sets the Patch Tuesday schedule, so this task has a natural place in the normal monthly rhythm of good housekeeping on your computer.

The fourth week of every month, run a full (or "comprehensive") antivirus scan of your computer. Like a backup of the hard drive, this should be run overnight, when it won't interfere with any computer use. A thorough antivirus scan should also include a scan for spyware and other malware, and it could easily occupy 50% or more of the computer's processing power, so it can be a massive nuisance to run while the computer is in use. An overnight scan is just as effective and won't bother anyone in the process.

These recommendations, of course, depend on the precise circumstances of the individual computer user. But as general guidelines, they're good for ensuring that the truly essential steps for computer security get taken on a routine basis. Ideally, one would actually conduct a full backup, a round of program updates, and an antivirus scan every single week...but it's a sad fact of life that nobody but a small handful of hard-core enthusiasts does this. Committing to following at least a monthly cycle for these steps, though, will at least bring one's computer use to an acceptable level of safety and security.

Have your own evacuation orders

You never know when a worst-case scenario could cause you to have to leave home in an emergency. Not all disasters are predictable, nor is there always time to gather belongings. But often, one has at least a couple of moments of clarity before having to evacuate.

In those moments, everyone should have a plan to grab a digital backup of their most important files. Everyone should have an SD card or USB flash drive they could grab in an instant with at least three essential sets of items:

- copies of digitized family photos
- scans of important paper records, like medical details, birth and marriage certificates, school and employment information, and tax filings
- backup copies of any accounting records or other essential financial and business information that's routinely kept on a computer hard drive

The flash drive or SD card should always be kept current, and stored in its own secure location -- but one that can be reached speedily if the need arises.
It may seem like a novelty or an extravagance, but everyone should own their own domain name -- specifically, whenever possible, one should own one's own name, ending in dot-com. There are many fine reasons, but four stand out above the rest:

#1: There is no better way to secure your online reputation in a single step
Nobody should doubt that the importance of one's online reputation grows every day. The breadcrumb trail you leave behind on the Internet simply by taking up space on this planet is greater than most people would imagine -- even if you do nothing at all on the Internet yourself, you'll still almost undoubtedly end up with a presence there. Because that trail you unintentionally (or intentionally) leave behind now influences such important decisions as whether you're considered credit-worthy or whether you're employable, it's important to have as much influence over that reputation as you can grasp. The single easiest way to capture that is by securing your own name as a domain name.

#2: E-mail services may change, but your e-mail address shouldn't
Any decent domain-name service (I like, but there are plenty of decent providers) will allow you to forward e-mail sent to your domain name to your choice of destinations. That means you can set up your own permanent e-mail address on your own domain that will forward to whatever service you want to use -- Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, your Internet service provider, or any combination of destinations you choose. This makes e-mail management easier for you (since you can set up multiple incoming addresses to suit different needs, like financial services, personal messages, and comments you post on public message boards), and it means that nobody will ever have to search for your e-mail address again in the future, just because you changed webmail services.

#3: Everyone has some sort of domicile on the Internet anyway
If you have a Facebook page, then you already have a website of your own. If you have a Flickr account or a YouTube channel, then you already have a website. If you have a LinkedIn account, then you already have a presence. If you keep up a Twitter account, then you already have an address on the Internet. The problem with all of these is that they become your "domiciles" on the Internet -- and they're all owned by somebody else. Sure, you may have rights to your account, but that isn't the same as actually owning your own domain name. The difference is like that between being a renter and being a homeowner. Both give you a place to stay, but only one is really "your" property. Buying a domain name is a way to ensure that your chief domicile on the Internet really belongs to you. There's nothing that says you can't use that domain name to point directly to your Facebook wall or your YouTube channel. But if you're going to invest your time and energy into anything resembling a digital version of yourself, then you really should ensure that you own the digital version of the very name that belongs to you in the real world.

#4: You don't know how much you'll use it until you get it
...then, once you get it, you won't know how you got along before you got it.

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