- Subscribe to an online backup service
- Change your passwords to ones that can't be hacked
- Buy an uninterruptible power supply for your desktop computer
Follow these tips and you'll be protected from losing important files, hard disk crashes and hackers invading your online accounts.
Set Up Online File Backup
Computer experts always advise to back up your files, and for good reason. You can replace computer hardware, and reinstall software, but losing important documents, personal photos and the rest is a shame when it's so easily avoidable.
In addition to backing up your files on a hard drive, you might enlist an online backup service, which means that your files won't be lost even if all your computer equipment goes kaput.
One popular online backup service provider is Mozy (www.mozy.com). Getting started is simple: you set up an account, download and install the Mozy software (available for Windows or Mac), decide which folders and files you want backed up, and when the automatic backups should occur.
If you'd like to keep a backup copy at home, you can set the program to store files both on a connected hard drive and on the network servers. So far you haven't spent a dime and, if your backup needs are modest, you're done. Mozy offers 2 gigabytes of free storage for a single computer, which is likely to be plenty for your important documents, though probably not if you have lots of digital photos. If you need more space, you can purchase unlimited backup capacity for $4.95 a month, with discounts for prepaying in one- or two-year increments.
If you have several computers that require backup, another good option is SOS Online Backup (www.sosonlinebackup.com). Set up and capabilities are similar to Mozy, but you can store files from up to five PCs, up to a total of 50 gigabytes, for $79.95 annually. There's no Mac support, and no free storage option, but you can take SOS Online for a test drive for a 14-day trial period.
Create Tougher Passwords
There's a delicate balance between creating passwords you can remember and passwords the bad guys can't figure out, but a few tricks should help improve your security without taxing your memory much.
Your password shouldn't be a proper name or a word you might find in the dictionary, since hackers use automated programs to try all of those possibilities until one fits. Ideally, a strong password should include not just letters but some combination of numbers and even punctuation marks. Capitalization is another way to strengthen a password, since "A" isn't the same as "a" in a computer password.
Another point to consider: you don't want to use the same password for every account you access. We have seen cases where account names and passwords have been stolen from online sites. If you use the same password everywhere, you're far more vulnerable to this type of attack. And longer passwords are more secure than short ones, though often a web site or service will limit the number of characters you can use.
Systematically substituting numbers and punctuation marks for letters in a word you'll remember is a good option. For example, changing the letter "I" to an exclamation point, the letter "e" to a 3, and capitalizing the first letter in the second part of a compound word are pretty easy to recall, yet it turns the word "milestone" from an easy-to-crack password into "m!l3Ston3", a nice strong password. As for using different passwords on different sites, if you create a memorable core section as we did above and add the name of the site at the end — take "m!l3Ston3ebay" as an example — you effectively differentiate your passwords.