Security the Family PC

The SANS center also known as the Internet Storm Center is a volunteer organization dedicated to computer and Internet security. They rely on volunteers to detect problems, analyze threats and provide technical and procedures to the general public and IT professionals to address these threats.  I visit their website at https://isc.sans.edu/ daily to see the new threats that I need to be aware of as a general PC user and an IT professional at work.  It is very well known in the security community of posting quality information in a very timely manner.

They have designated October as Cyber Security Awareness Month and have dedicated that efforts this year will be focused on “Securing the Person”, in other words they are talking about the human element of security.  These things go beyond the everyday security practices of “Run a Firewall” but should be helpful for anyone who does any technology trouble shooting.  I plan on highlighting some of each days topics that I think will be most helpful for readers adding comments and other thoughts along the way.

Today’s topic is “Securing the Physical Family PC”. Anyone who has a computer at home should consider implementing at least some of these tips. They are designed for families but most can apply to anyone. I will talk more about general computer security such as software updates, network security, etc in my next post.

  • Backup your computer.
    • In my opinion this is the most overlooked area in home computing today. We live in a digital world today, with most people owning a digital camera, purchasing digital content (music, movies, software, games, etc) but they fail to prepare for problems.  Computers have problems from time to time, hard drives and other hardware fail, computers become infected with viruses and malware, acts of God (Flood, Fire, Tornado), and theft all happen.  What would you do if your house burned down? Would all of your digital photos, turbotax records, music from the past 5 years burn with it? The answer should be no.  Backing up for protection from a hardware failure is easy with a local copy on another hard drive but it is not perfect because it does not protect against theft and acts of God, a more perfect solution involves an offsite backup.  Many online cloud solutions are good for this and each service is a bit different and has pro’s and con’s.  My favorite of the moment is Backblaze but other good options are Mozy and Carbonite.  Take a look at them and consider implementing something on your computer today. All of these services offer encryption and trial periods.  With any cloud based backup soltuion the initial backup may take days but in the end it  is worth it. On my list of To Blog about topics includes a couple of backup articles. More will follow.
  • Use an uninterruptable power supply (UPS) for PCs, laptops have their own built-in UPS – the battery.
    • Many people understand that a computer should be plugged into a surge protector, but a UPS is an even greater source of protection.  UPS’s allow a PC to run on battery power should the power dip, or spike or go out and most initiate a safe shutdown procedure to protect your hardware from damage that would result.  In the midwest they are very handy to help with extreme weather.
  • Document computer details in writing (serial number, software, receipts, BIOS password, etc.) and keep the documentation in a fireproof box or safe
    • This is very helpful information if you ever have computer problems or need to call your manufacture for support.  It is also helpful for an insurance inventory.  Consider storing a copy online in the cloud as well.  Dropbox, Lastpass, and a Google Document (for non sensitive information) are both good ways to do this.  Also keep the information up to date
  • Keep all of the hardware and software manuals, plus any software CDs/DVDs in one place that is easy to find
    • Common sens here, it makes it easy to find when you need it in a panic situation.
  • Use a cable lock to keep intruders from stealing the computer should there be a break-in
    • No device makes it impossible for a theif to steal if they really want it.  A cable lock does slow someone down.  This may seem overkill but works especially well in some environments (Think college dorms).
  • Throw a towel over the web cam (better:  unplug the web cam)
    • The recent news story of school district that was found to be spying on students while at home by accident with the school issued laptops integrated web cams (News stories here: Story 1, Story 2, Story 3) have brought this to the attention of the public.  It is possible for a virus of malware program to do the same thing.  As a result the easy solution is just to cover it up. On laptops with integrated web cams a piece of blue painters tape or sticky note works well too. Most people don’t use their web cams all the time so this is an easy way to improve general security.
  • Unless it needs to always be on, consider turning it off when not in use
    • Computers use a lot of energy and create a lot of heat.  Consider shutting it off or enabling sleep or suspend mode on your operating system to control this.
  • Keep plenty of room around the PC so that air can flow through to cool it
    • Computers are hot and need lots of air moving through them for cooling.  Under the desk in the corner on the dirty floor is not the best place for a PC, Out of sight is not out of mind for a computer tower.  At least once a year (quarterly is preferred) unplug the computer, take it outside and open up the side of the computer case and then blow the dust out with a can of compressed air.  This is easy to do and will keep the computer running much cooler.
  • Keep all computers in full view (no hidden machines, no illusion of privacy)
    • This one is really designed for families with children.  A PC in the living room that the kids use really do allow for parents to keep an eye on what the kids are doing online. Also for younger kids who are using the computer for homework it can help to keep down the many distractions they face (IM’s Facebook, etc)

Here is a link to the original SANS article https://isc.sans.edu/diary.html?storyid=9649

Portal 2: Release date announced

We won’t have to wait too much longer, as Valve announced Wed morning Portal 2’s release date to be February 9th of next year.  Being a huge fan of the original, I’ll definitely be putting this one on my list.  Inherently, I’ll be opting for the PC or Mac version, as a game like Portal, in my humble opinion, is best played with a mouse.  They’re also releasing for PS3 and Xbox 360.

There’s some awesome new elements they’re rolling out with this one, including Wheatley, a friendly British robot that will accompany you, voiced by Stephen Merchant (writer for both versions of The Office, and also starred in a few episodes of the US version).

They’ve also added features, among others, like Repulsion and Propulsion Gel, an Excursion Funnel, the Pneumatic Diversity Vent, the Aerial Faith Plate, and a Thermal Discouragement Beam.  For trailers showcasing these features and more, check out Portal’s official teaser site here.

For the latest news, keep an eye on gameinformer.