Patrick Marshall answers your personal-technology questions each week.

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Q: I’ve decided to join the modern era and recently got a smartphone. What kind of security do you need for a phone? I have read about Sophos, AVL, Avast, Lookout, etc. — but how does one choose?

— Jo Moore

A: The first security step is to set a lock code or fingerprint access so that someone can’t just come along and access the data on your misplaced or lost phone.

The second step is to be very careful about what apps you install on the machine. Many of them not only violate your privacy by, for example, accessing your contact list, but they can compromise security in other ways. Notice what permissions the app says it needs when you’re installing it. If, for example, a game says it needs access to your phone contacts, don’t install it.

Finally, smartphones are at least as vulnerable to hacking and malware as PCs so, yes, I recommend installing security software. I haven’t done a comparative review of smartphone anti-malware so I can’t make a strong recommendation. I can reveal, however, that I’m using Malwarebytes Antimalware for Android on my own phone. Alternatively, you may want to search the internet for a recent comparative review.


Q: I use Firefox as my browser on Windows XP. I sometimes get a pop-up that says “unresponsive script,” and that locks up my computer. How does one prevent that?

— John Tate

A: What’s happening is that you’ve visited a website that is trying to run a script, which is essentially a set of commands that will interact with your computer. It may be to load a video, for example. But the script is hanging up. It may be that your computer doesn’t have software that the script is expecting. Probably the most common cause of this error is a JavaScript command in a script that hangs up because either your Java is out of date or not installed.

The simplest way to prevent the problem is to avoid that website. Alternatively, you’ll find more detailed troubleshooting tips here:

By the way, I also urge you to update your operating system. Windows XP is no longer supported and is very vulnerable to hacking and malware. What’s more, since it’s so old there are many incompatibilities with current applications, including website scripts.


Q: I am using a 3-year-old Dell laptop. I downloaded Windows 10 when it first came out. Now when I try to open a document I get a screen that says “select the encoding that makes your document readable” and I cannot open the document. If I attach a document to an email I can open it with a double click. I did not have this problem until I switched to Windows 10.

— Mike Morrell, La Conner

A: For whatever reason, Windows 10 isn’t able to match the document with the application that can open it. So the first step is to determine what kind of file it is that you can’t open. Using File Explorer, locate one of those documents and right-click on it, then select Properties from the menu. In the dialogue that pops up, just below the filename you’ll find an entry for “Type of file.”

If the dialogue doesn’t also list the application that opens that type of file, the next step is to determine what program is supposed to open that file. If, for example, it’s a JPG file, a quick search on the internet will tell you that it’s an image file. If you do have a program installed on the computer that opens image files then somehow that association has come undone. To fix it, go to the Control Panel and open the Default Programs utility. The second option in that utility is “Associate a File Type or Protocol with a Program.” Select that, scroll down until you see the right file type and then indicate what program you want to use.

If you don’t find the program you use with that file type listed, you’ll need to reinstall the program.