How To Mess Up Your Computer

Category: Cool-Stuff , Security

Aside from actually drop-kicking it or smashing it with a sledge hammer, it's fairly difficult to actually break a computer. That said, there are a number of ways to render your computer just slightly more useful than a doorstop. Certain careless acts can cause crashes, freezes, painfully slow performance, loss of data or invasion of your privacy. Here's my list of Ten Stupid Things You Can Do To Mess Up Your Computer...

messed up computer

Ten Stupid Things You Can Do To Mess Up Your Computer

Okay, I'm using a little reverse psychology on you... If want to keep your computer running smoothly and avoid becoming a target for cyber criminals, here are ten things you should NOT do.

  1. Failing to Apply Security Patches - New computer security threats crop up almost daily, as hackers, crackers and other cyber villians attempt to find and exploit holes in the operating system and application software we use every day. Unpatched vulnerabilities can lead to virus infestations, enslavement in a botnet, or even identity theft. And no software is immune, whether you run Windows, Mac or Linux. You need to configure your system to automatically download and install security patches for your operating system, office software, web browser, Java, email program, PDF reader, media player and other software you use. How do you do that?

    windows update Take advantage of the tools built into your operating system -- Windows Update, Mac OS X Software Update, or Ubuntu Update Manager -- and make sure they're set to run on auto-pilot every day. Other software that you've installed may offer the same type of automatic updating capability. Don't ignore the warning messages from the updaters, and apply fixes as soon as they are available.

  2. Not Using Anti-Virus/Anti-Spyware Protection - This is perhaps the most common way to make a system inoperable, and the easiest problem to avoid. Not using anti-malware program is akin to leaving the front door of your house wide open with all of your valuables on prominent display. Having an unprotected system is an invitation to allow all kinds of nasty things like spyware, trojan horses, viruses and root kits to access your system. Virus and spyware creators do this in the hope of gaining control of computers for nefarious purposes, or getting access to sensitive information that may be stored on a hard drive. And of course, viruses and spyware can significantly slow down a machine. Be safe, use a good anti-virus, and anti-spyware program to keep out the bad stuff. See my recommendations for Malware Scanners and Free Anti-Virus Software.
  3. Not Using a Firewall - Yes, your computer needs a firewall. But probably not the kind everyone is telling you to install. Chances are, you already have an excellent firewall built in to your high-speed modem/router. Find out more about the two kinds of firewalls, and which one you need in my Do I Need a Firewall? article.
  4. annoying popups Clicking on Bogus Popups - Popup ads are intrusive, annoying and seemingly everywhere on the Web. Yet, it is amazing how often some computer users will mindlessly click on them. Popups will promise you anything from a free dinner for two to ridding your machine of viruses with one click. These ads can mask spyware and malware that gets loaded onto your machine behind-the-scenes. Also, a lot of them are just annoying links to endlessly long surveys that offer a free laptop or iPod, with the catch being that you have to sign up for a lot of paid services that you probably really don't need. One telecom provider recently got a flood of angry calls from users who unwittingly clicked a popup that subtly had them signing up for a web hosting service without the users even realizing it! The use of a good anti-malware program plus using the popup blocker that comes with a lot of browsers, can help keep the popup ads at bay. If you see a popup ad in a browser window, close the window by clicking the red button at the top. Don't click inside the popup window, or you could unwittingly download harmful software.
  5. computer virus Unsafe Downloading - It can be tempting to download pirated versions of games, movies or popular software packages. But beware the warez... tools like Limewire, Bittorrent, and rogue download sites are chock full of nasty surprises. Some downloads have been modified to contain embedded viruses or trojan horses that can compromise your system. Stick with safe download sites such as and Tucows, where you can find tons free software and shareware that's certified malware-free.
  6. Falling for Phishing Scams - The Nigerian email scam has become as well-known a confidence game as the old shell-game. But it still is astonishing how many will fall for it. The news reported recently about a woman who lost almost half a million dollars to email scammers. Also, be on the lookout for those very official looking phishing attempts. An email may come to your inbox that looks like it's from your bank, Ebay or Paypal. You open it up and it is asking you to verify your information by entering your password, social security or account number. And it's scary how precisely the emails (and the sites they link to) match the real ones. Bottom line: no one has any business asking for your private information via email. If you have any questions about a suspicious email that looks like it came from a place you do business with, call that company to verify, and always use a bookmark or manually key the address of sites that require a login. Read more about phishing scams to protect yourself from these online scams.
  7. wifi hackers Not Securing Your WiFi - Ever notice your Internet connection slowing down? This could be the result of strangers mooching off your wifi bandwidth. If you leave your wireless router wide open and unsecured, it's an open invitation for neighbors and passers-by to connect. But in addition to sharing your internet connection, you're also exposing yourself to hackers and possibly even legal liability. Best practice is to enable WEP or WPA encryption on your router and to set a strong password as the key. Many users neglect to change the default username and password of their home routers, information which can easily be found online. Why take a chance? Read my article Wireless Security for help getting your router secured.
  8. Haphazard Deleting - It's not so hard to fill up a hard drive these days, even with the large storage capacity that comes with machines. But when you feel like doing some housekeeping on your system, make sure you know what you are deleting. The deletion of DLL files and other files residing in system folders or program folders can cause your operating system or applications to crash. Usually, Windows will not let you delete critical system files, but play it safe: if you are not sure what you are deleting, leave it alone and do some research on it first. When it come to housekeeping, better options for freeing up drive space are removing unneccesary software with Add/Remove Programs, or running the Disk Cleanup utility. For heavy duty disk scrubbing, read my tips for a Clean Hard Drive.
  9. backup hard drive Forgetting to Back Up - This is a heart-breaker because it so easy to avoid. Sooner or later, you WILL accidentally delete an important file, or experience a hard drive failure. Always make sure that you back up any critical files, and on a regular basis. Backing up is so easy now with external drives and online backup services. No messy tapes or piles or floppy disks... Shame on you once if you lose a file, shame on you twice if you didn't remember to back it up. See my related piece on Automatic Backups and Online Backup Services.
  10. Setting up a BIOS password - This idea is well intentioned yet can cause you trouble. You want to be as safe as can be, so you lock your computer with a BIOS password. It cannot even go through boot up without input of that password. If you set a BIOS password, make sure you never ever forget. Some motherboards will allow you to reset the BIOS, but others cannot be done without the assistance of potentially costly expert help. If you want to be secure, a better option is a fingerprint reader. Plus, there's no password to remember.

These are just a few of the more avoidable ways to mess up your machine. I'm sure you can think of other stupid things you can do to really foul up a computer. Post your comments below...

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Posted by on 3 Dec 2008

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Most recent comments on "How To Mess Up Your Computer"

Posted by:

04 Dec 2008

Oh Yeah ... How to totally 'fry' your computer in one simple move, by MmeMoxie. Once had a motherboard with a 1.3gb CPU. One day, definitely in one of my major Blonde moments ... I overclocked that sucker in one move, from lowest to highest! Didn't bother with 1 increment at a time. No sir, I went straight to the top MHz that was listed in the BIOS!

Needless to say, one 'Dead' computer. Lesson well learned, never make major overclocks, in one single move. }:-}

Posted by:

10 Dec 2008

This one time in college a couple years back I was in a Command Prompt scripting class, yes back to lovely batch files. I actually learned a couple new things in this class. Well the computers were using Win2000 and the hard drives were wiped every night after class. So I wrote a script that went through and deleted each and every file (including system and hidden files) in each and every directory one by one.

We watched the script run and observed the decay of 2000 as it progressed. It slowly got jerky and worse and worse until it completely froze. Everyone in the group was quite amused. I think the lab technician got a little pissed though.

Reminds me of the time when the CEO (who was leaving the company abruptly) asked me to wipe her computer clean. I didn't really care as I had backed it up a few days previous and had even prepared CDs for the owners. She was so shocked when it wouldn't even boot. Users....

I used to have to retrieve files that her computer had lost on her, but if anyone asked her she was a computer expert.

Oh and then there is my old friend who wanted more space on the computer I loaned him (486-33). He was with me when I set it up and remembered where I put the hard drive settings into BIOS (back in the day when you had to do that). So he went back in and doubled the size of the hard drive in BIOS. A couple years later I was actually able to get that drive to work after several low level formats, but I don't think I'd ever trust it.

Posted by:

10 Dec 2008

To mess up royally, believe what you read on the MS site, at least, regarding "repairing" a faulty or misbehaving OS.

With a misbehaving XP SP 3, MS Help suggested an OS "repair". Doing this took as long as a clean install but resulted in essentially my old desktop (at least I thought so), but it was only at SP 1.

After installing SP2 from CD and SP3 and a few security updates I had downloaded, IE7 wanted to access the net through Firefox! MS update won't work. Re-installing Firefox didn't change the situation. Can't uninstall IE7 and reinstall it.

Later, plugging in a USB device (a card reader and then a scanner) gave me the old BSOD (blue screen of death), not seen for years and a reboot. Several tries gave the same result.

So, don't "repair" a faulty OS unless you know what every DLL or system file is and does. Make an image of your working OS with the programs you need installed, unless you want to re-install the whole show and tweak stuff the way you had it. I didn't so I'm back to square 1.5.

Posted by:

10 Dec 2008

Use a finger print for boot is fine until you cut or burn your finger! Just try it to find out what fun it is not then!

Posted by:

17 Dec 2008

hi bob, I have a vista home prem. 32 bite. When i down load IE8 beta #1 or 2 internet explorer stops working.I had the same problem with ie7 until i deleted adobe 7 and put on adobe 9, now ie7 works great. ie8 will not work. Mabe you would pass this on to other vista users with adobe 7 installed on their computer. its not compatible.

Posted by:

Jeannette Messinger
28 Jan 2009

Hi Bob- I need HELP. I cannot get the Menus Bar, like: File, Edit, Favorites,etc; No links bars. The last place I took it to a while ago hide those links--now I cannot get back those valuable tabs. Can you help?

EDITOR'S NOTE: You can probably get them back by pressing Alt-V (the equivalent of clicking on View) and then looking in the sub-menus for an option to turn the menu bar back on. Or they could just be squished over to the left side of the screen. Hover over anything that looks like a dotted vertical bar and if the mouse cursor turns into a double arrow, click and drag it.

Posted by:

11 Feb 2009

I enjoyed the article, and was particularly interested in the section on backups. I'm working on the translation of a large Sanskrit text, and my files are rather large: over 95 MB of text just now. By the time the book is done, it will be three times that long.

In the early stages of the work, I used to back-up once a month or so--maybe once a season...

So all I would lose is a month or more of hard work, about 7 hours a day, 365 days a year, if my computer failed. Which it did one day.

I had tried to install Ubuntu, and it had some curious intercourse with my BIOS [I'm an old fellow, and little understand these things]. While trying to delete Ubuntu, I did a number of turn-offs and restarts [not using the restart button]. This, I was advised, caused a short in the CPU.

My files then had about three years work.

I did not reach for a poison draught.

A few months previous, I had bought a special offer from Winzip, for a service called Carbonite, an online backup service, and it had all [then] 3GB of my desktop in safe storage.

There is no hassle to this service: nothing to install, and nothing for you to do after the initial setup. [That takes time, but can be done if you leave your computer running at bedtime.]

After that, it records your files while you work, and ships them to a broom closet in New Jersey.

When your computer has some unusual intercourse, and breaks down, then you can download all your files to a new computer [or repaired old one]. Like the upload, it takes time;--a good opportunity for a nap!

I have not any experience with other systems than this one. I read about another good one in HUB Magazine [which got a higher rating than Carbonite}, but forget its name.

I might add that I have encountered the occasional trivial problem; and their customer service has always been promptly helpful. I give them five stars.

I am not, by the way, a member of the family; though I would not mind being regarded as a surrogate uncle.

Posted by:

11 Feb 2009

I have a "Zafi" trojan / worm on my desktop at home. My teenage boys went to some sites they should not have and I apparently acquired it that way. I small window pops up that seems too small for the unusual text inside it asking if I should download, delete, or enable download or something to that affect. Will the free trojan worm remover from your site help clear this up?

EDITOR'S NOTE: I'm not sure which one you mean. Here are my recommendations:

Posted by:

Phillip Swiger
09 Aug 2009

I have a desk top PC with window XP installed. I was on the computer and I don't know what I did to cause the screen to rotate 90 deg, counterclock wise ! I tried to fix the problem by rebooting and the picture still comes on rotated 90 deg. How do I rotate the picture back to the normal position ?

EDITOR'S NOTE: You probably hit Ctrl-Alt-LeftArrow by mistake. Happened to me once, and it drove me crazy until I figured it out! Press Ctrl-Alt-UpArrow to fix it.

Posted by:

Mike Mac
01 Sep 2009

Hi Bob, I have a 3 year old Dell laptop with XP on it that started behaving strangely the past few months. Behavior includes being extremely slow, freezing up and not recognizing USB devices when plugged in. I'll have to restart with the USB device plugged in to get it to be recognized. I've tried many different anti virus programs including AVG, Avast and PC Cillin as well as Ad Aware and Spybot, but nothing is ever detected. I've defragged and run system clean up with no improvement in performance detected. I was thinking of doing a system restore, but not sure if it will have a restore point 6+ months back. I'm pretty sure I have a virus of some sort, but can't find it. Any advice you can offer would be appreciated. Thanks!

Posted by:

don barajas
17 Nov 2010

Hello , i would like to say that i switched my windows update from updating daily at 3am to notify me of updates , but do not install. on oct. 17th , 2010 they downloaded 17 updates including updates to windows SP1 AND SP3. also of recent, they downloaded windows 7 and security updates to windows 7 as well.

i did not want windows 7 on my pc at this time. their are also 78 updates awaiting my approval for downloading. they notified me last week with the yellow shield in the systems tray , but i have no idea what the all contain. 6 yrs. ago i was told that microsoft only downloads updates that pertain to your system. that is not true as you can see and im waiting to hear from them on this. to anyone that doesnt know, microsoft will fix, answer questions and do just about anything you can think of for free if it pertains to microsoft updates. thank you , don barajas

EDITOR'S NOTE: Are you saying that you were automatically updated from a previous version of Windows to Windows 7? I've never heard of that happening. What version of Windows were you previously running?

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Article information: AskBobRankin -- How To Mess Up Your Computer (Posted: 3 Dec 2008)
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