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Securing Windows XP Pro

If you are like me, you're dodging the bullet on upgrading your personal PC to Windows Vista. Maybe I'm just growing old, and resistant to change, but I just don't like Vista. So, many people ask, "With Microsoft sending XP to an early grave, what can I do to keep it running on my PC?"

Microsoft isn't killing XP entirely. They are just stopping the sale of new copies. If you don't already have it, you're not going to be able to buy it. If you already have a copy, it's not a big deal just yet, as far as I can tell. The best thing to do is just follow a few basic rules of computing to keep your PC secure. A secure PC is a happy PC, and will keep you up and running for as long as you are willing to keep it that way.

First things first, everything I'm about to spew out is from my personal and professional experience. These tips aren't meant for the corporate or enterprise network. This is for those of us at home with one or two PC's around the house. Please don't think this is going to work in any situation where you have more users or computers than you do fingers.

1- Don't trust anything.

Don't know what it is? Not sure where it came from? Is that big name brand spelled wrong? Don't install it, click on it, open it or read it. Unless you are 100% sure that it is legit, don't use it.

2- Stay up to date.

I know they aren't perfect, but stay on top of those Windows updates. It's safe to be leary of major updates like service packs, sometimes it's better to wait a day or two for the major bugs to be worked out. A couple Google searches for your model PC or laptop and the name of the update will usually turn up major bugs. Same goes for printers, network and video cards or even CPU brands or models.

3- Get a good anti-virus program.

Avoid the "all in one" type programs. It's been my experience that the more tasks a piece of software tries to take on, the worse it gets. (Norton Internet Security Suite, anyone?) Stick with a good old fashioned anti-virus program. I've used AVG for many years with great success. (http://www.grisoft.com) The free version should be more than enough for most home users, but the Pro version really stands out if you like to tweak, or have a more advanced setup.

If you need something to keep the malware away, Spybot Search & Destroy (http://www.spybot.info) and AdAware (http://www.lavasoft.com) are both tried and true. I think Spybot alone is usually sufficient, but you can't beat the one, two punch combo.

4- Don't set a password on your user account.

"Holy crap, are you kidding me? What are you, nuts?" Before you think I'm crazy, just understand this. When you don't set a password on a user account, remote access is disabled for that user in XP Pro. Unless someone is physically sitting at your computer, they aren't going to log in. And if someone you don't want using your computer is sitting at it, you've got more problems than I can address here.

If you absolutely have to have a password on your computer to get the "Warm fuzzy feeling," set a BIOS password, and leave your computer off when not in use. When you turn on the computer, you get prompted for a password. If you don't have the password, the computer won't even boot up. You shouldn't be wasting electricty by having it run 24/7 anyway. :)

5- Don't use IE.

Sure, Internet Explorer has gotten better with IE7, but FireFox is really a better solution. Just don't go bogging it down with all those add on extensions. Do you really need to have the weather report constantly updating on your screen? They just end up sucking up memory and bandwidth. Opera is also another choice, if FireFox just doesn't do it for you.

Sure, there are some sites that are designed for IE, and some will even force you to use it. Not a big deal, just don't use it for your everyday, all the time browsing.

6- It's not a matter of if something fails, it's a matter of when.

I'm sorry to say it, but computers aren't perfect, and something is going to go wrong somewhere. Whether a piece of hardware fails, you accidentally delete something, a windows update breaks something, a program you install crashes your computer, lightning strikes, you get a virus, or the kids decide that the computer is hungry and feed it a ham sandwich and glass of milk. The possibilities are endless.

How can I make sure I don't loose my data? Backups. I recommend that everyone has an external hard drive of some sort.

I just bought a Western Digital eBook, which is a USB hard drive that you can hook up to any computer. Mine is 500 gigs, and it makes a great place to save pictures, documents, music or anything else you don't want to loose, and isn't likely to fill up any time soon. (My laptop currently only has a 40 gig hard drive in it.) I keep it hooked up to my laptop, and I make it a point to copy what important data to it regularly. That way, I have two copies of everything. One on my hard drive, and one on the eBook. If you want to be double safe, you can copy the data from the eBook and burn it to a CD or DVD on a regular basis, and have yet another backup, in case something happens to the eBook.