Hi everyone, Millie's Mom here. A few years ago, my computer got a virus. As I was rebuilding my computer, I realized I had taken some precautions that every computer owner should take, and since I do this for a living, I have a few hints that most folks don't think about. I wrote a document about what I do to make restoring a computer a lot easier. Since I just replaced the hard drive on my computer, I thought many of you would appreciate seeing it.
A Cautionary Tale
Last weekend my computer got a virus.
I could not repair it, and had to reformat my hard drive, reinstall the operating system and all the software, and then restore my data. While this was a big pain and a lot of work, it was not a disaster, because I was prepared and had some tools to help me. I have an older computer and a mini portable drive(USB “thumb drive”). I was able to install my operating system into the old computer (which I named “Dinosaur”) and copy my uninfected documents and files to it using the mini portable hard drive. Then when I was ready, I was able to copy the files back to my “Real” computer.
Not everyone has a mini portable hard drive or a spare computer. But you can take some steps to prevent a computer virus or hard drive failure from becoming a complete disaster. Let’s face it, when this happens, it WILL be at a bad time.
The first thing you should do is keep all your software in one place. Don’t just throw it into a pile on the desk. I have a loose-leaf binder that has pages to hold CD's. I keep my Operating System CD and all the other hardware-related CD's in it.
New computers come with a CD for the operating system and often a disk for pre-installed drivers. You might also have CD’s for a Monitor, Keyboard, CDRW drive, Network Interface Card, Sound Card, Modem and Printer. Those are just for hardware. You’ll probably have lots more for the software, or programs. For example, I have: an Office Suite, Quicken, Norton Anti-Virus, and Corel Photo Album.
I also have a lot of software that I bought and downloaded from the Internet. I’ve got several games – Bejeweled, Sudoku, Pretty Good Solitaire. Each of these has a special registration code. I printed the emails with the registration codes and I keep these in the same loose-leaf binder. I don’t need to keep a copy of the software, because as long as I have the registration number, I can download another copy from the Internet.
Nowadays, Windows Operating System software needs the 25-digit product key whenever it is reinstalled. This can be found on a sticker somewhere on your computer. Some manufacturers put the sticker on the back of the computer, some on the front. Without this number, you won’t be able to install your software. That’s something else, along with the Administrator Password, that I keep in the binder.
Many users have CD burners. I strongly urge you to copy your “My Documents” folder to a CD on a regular basis. I take lots of digital pictures. So every other month or so, I copy the “My Pictures” folder to a CD.
I also copy my Outlook Express mailbox. Search your computer for the *.dbx files. Your mailbox files can get very large, well over 50 to 100 MB. Get in the habit of cleaning it out every now and then, and then backing up what’s left on a regular basis.
Your Windows Address Book is not stored with your mail. It is a *.wab file. It is called Name.wab. The WAB means “Windows Address Book.” This is another file you should back up regularly. It’s not usually very large, but it contains lots of valuable information that can be hard to replicate.
You should also make a copy of your “Favorites” folder. If you have Windows 2000 or Windows XP, it’s located in the “Documents and Settings\\Favorites” folder. And get in the habit of adding websites you like to your Favorites folder. You can’t restore the most recently visited sites from the address list on your browser.
I use Quicken to manage my checkbook. Every week after I’ve paid the bills, I back up my data. This is vital. I keep these backups in my file drawer with the rest of the bills.
I also do a lot of bill paying on line. In my binder I keep a list of accounts with their usernames and passwords. This page is handwritten. I don’t want a document like that to exist on my computer. And I don’t let my computer “save” my passwords for me.
A few other things are stored in my binder. Since I have Comcast high-speed internet access, I keep my Comcast logon and password information, along with the IP settings of my computer. I keep a copy of the instructions on how to set up a Mail account in Outlook Express, and a document from Microsoft explaining how to import mail from one Outlook Express account to another. (It is document 312359, you can find it here.) And believe it or not, I keep a copy of the bill for the computer itself, with the name and address of the vendor.
At work, I often take a print screen of a user’s desktop so that when I upgrade the user to a new computer, I can reproduce the placement of the desktop icons. This is handy. I keep a copy of this in my binder as well. It’s funny to think that you look at your computer screen every day, yet can’t remember where the icons belong if you have to start from scratch, but that’s the way it is.
I also make print screens of the contents of any custom folders. I have a special folder for games, so the icons don’t clutter up my desktop. I also keep a print screen of the Device Manager in the Control Panel. This shows me the names of the various drivers that are installed on my computer. It’s handy for when I might have to reinstall a driver. It’s a lot easier to look at this page than it is to shut the computer down and crack the case to try to see what’s written on the card inside.
Is this a lot of work? Yes. Can it be a pain in the neck? Sure. But armed with all the information at my fingertips, restoring my computer was relatively easy. And I didn’t lose anything important.
A few parting notes. You must run Anti-Virus software, and you must keep your computer updated with the latest security patches. Many have protection against keeping intruders out. Find out more at www.microsoft.com/security.
So how did I, a Network Administrator, get a virus on my home computer even though I have Anti-Virus software, a software Firewall and a hardware Firewall at my house? I broke the first rule. Never click on an attachment (either left click OR right click) that you don’t expect. In my defense, I was the victim of a new virus and the AV Company had not yet released new AV definitions that would have protected me. But it was still my fault.