Q: I have an HP Pavilion laptop which is about 1 1/2 years old and I am quite pleased with its performance. Recently I received a notice from HP Support that it was time for a system BIOS update. In doing some initial research on the issue, I discovered that such updates may pose a risk to the computer in that they can actually interfere with proper bootup functions for the hardware. I have seen other online warnings that there is no need to install a BIOS update unless it addresses a particular problem. Right now, my computer is working just fine. Presently I am undecided. What say you?
— Stuart Cohen
A: You did good research. My rule of thumb is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) updates won’t improve the computer’s performance nor do they generally address security issues. They may be issued to fix bugs or to support new hardware. So if you haven’t been experiencing any problem with the computer I wouldn’t install the update unless it includes specific features you need. That might be, for example, support for a newer central processing unit that you want to install in the computer.
Q: My home router has the Wi-Fi Service Set Identifier (SSID) set to “hidden” so that its name is not visible to nearby devices. This may not defeat access by hackers but at least the average person nearby would lack that basic information in an attempt to discover or access my network. I use a strong password in combination with a lengthy SSID.
After connecting to my home Wi-Fi network with an iPhone (iOS 14.7) the Info icon for that connection offers the following comment: “Hidden Network. Using a hidden network can expose personally identifiable information. If this is your Wi-Fi network, configure the router to broadcast this network.”
How might personally identifiable information be more vulnerable to discovery when an SSID is not broadcast? What is your advice on broadcasting the SSID for a home network?
— Jerry Rudy
A: That’s a debate that I’m revisiting for one simple reason: An experienced hacker can find your network whether or not your Wi-Fi router is broadcasting its SSID. So by turning off your SSID broadcast you’re only going to keep inexperienced hackers from trying to guess your password. A strong password and using WPA/WPA2 security protocol provide better assurance of security.
Here’s the thing, though. Yes, turning off SSID broadcast doesn’t mean your router is invisible to users within range. It just means your router’s name isn’t listed and it is instead replaced with “Hidden Network.” As some commentators have pointed out that may actually attract experienced hackers who figure you may have something to hide that is worth hacking into.
Q: I have had a Comcast email address for many years without any problems. However, on June 23 last year, when I opened my Windows email, I got a dialogue box from my email server indicating that there was a problem with my Comcast password. A computer-savvy friend said to go ahead and change the password and that things like this happen all the time. So, I went ahead and changed my password, which was not difficult.
A month later, however, the same thing happened, and I again changed my password.
All in all, I have changed my password 28 times in the past 13 months, and it has become a major annoyance.
I called Comcast technical support and got some vague information that my email may have been subject to random attacks by malicious software, probably of foreign derivation. I am deeply suspicious of this since it seems to me that Comcast has the wherewithal to keep malicious software off its servers. I suspect there may be something on my computer, like a password-saving app that is causing this problem.
Do you have any ideas?
— Emery Bayley
A: Email service providers will prompt users to change their password when algorithms detect suspicious behavior in your email account that may indicate it has been compromised. If you’re getting repeatedly prompted to change your password the most likely explanation, as you suspect, is that you have malware on your computer. That, I believe, is what Comcast tech support was inferring.
If you haven’t already installed antivirus/anti-malware software I’d certainly recommend doing so right away and running a complete scan.