Computers are inherently insecure, writes Patrick Marshall, and even with strong security software, smart user behavior is generally the most important protection from hackers. He also advises a reader who has run into an email-distribution problem.
Q: I’m a senior PC user, with limited understanding of the innards of computers, but know security software is a must.
I’ve used Internet security software that has a yearly fee. Because it increases every year, I’m seriously considering a free download for Internet security, and I recall your past columns recommending some, but can’t remember what they are.
Could you please repeat that information and what is needed for enough security?
I’m also wondering what System Mechanic is/does and whether there is a free download for the things it does.
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A: “Enough security” is the loaded part of your question. In fact, the term “computer security” is arguably an oxymoron.
Computers, because they are designed to be used by humans, are inherently insecure. You can spend a lot of money and they’re still not “secure,” but only “more secure.”
Because absolute security is not attainable, for most users the goal is to achieve an adequate level of security for an affordable price. What makes it tricky is that those two factors — “adequate” security and “affordable” price — will be different for different users.
If you’re looking for a low-cost security solution, I’d recommend using the free tools that come with Windows — Windows Defender and Windows Firewall. Are they the best products available? No. So it’s important that if you’re going to rely on these tools, you should adopt smart security behaviors.
While sophisticated hackers can break into supposedly secure computers, the most common threats by far for most users are malware transmitted via email or websites. I recommend following these four basic rules:
1. Don’t follow links in emails unless you trust the sender.
2. Don’t open attachments in emails unless you trust the sender.
3. Be careful about what you download from websites. When you download a free application or content, you may also be downloading malware.
4. Don’t visit websites you don’t trust. Simply opening a Web page can allow malware to be uploaded to your computer.
In fact, these are behaviors everyone should adopt, including those who spend more money for stronger security applications. Smart user behavior is generally far more effective protection than security software.
As for Iolo System Mechanic, it is a program that checks for a variety of vulnerabilities and performance bottlenecks in your computer’s configuration. It can also provide some protection against various kinds of malware.
The only knock on the program I’m aware of is that some users have reported conflicts with their anti-virus programs, though Iolo says workarounds are available. Many of the things System Mechanic does can be accomplished manually in Windows, but System Mechanic automates the processes for users who may not know the steps.
Q: I have an HP desktop that is about 5 years old. Installed are Windows 7 and Windows Live Mail.
I am having a problem with my category lists. I create an email to send, and when I select a category list to send the email to, this happens. If I have 10 contacts in the list, the email will not get sent to all contacts. When I put the email into the draft, I can see which contacts will get the email.
— Gene Gershen
A: Microsoft Live Mail offers both categories and distribution lists, and their functionality overlaps in potentially confusing ways.
Distribution lists are designed specifically for sending emails to a group of recipients, which is what it seems you’re after.
Categories are a way of organizing contacts into groups.
What’s not well documented is that there are potential snags in using categories as distribution lists. You can find more information on this at wlmail.wordpress.com/contacts-1/using-categories/
It’s also possible that one or more of the data files are corrupted. Tracking down such problems with Web mail clients is, of course, very difficult. That’s one reason I recommend using a desktop client, such as Outlook 2013, to users who are using distribution lists and other advanced features.