TEN Common Computing Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)

Category: Reference

Sorry if this sounds unsympathetic, but most computer problems are caused by users. There are a few basic steps you can take to avoid malware infections, data loss, and performance issues. Too often, people try to save time or money by cutting corners, and they end up paying the price. Check out my list of common computing mistakes, and how to fix (or even better, avoid) them. Read on...

TEN Computing Mistakes to Avoid

Here are ten of the most common computing mistakes, and some tips on corrective action you can take today.

SECURITY: Failure to use anti-malware protection is like leaving your door open and your wallet on the table. Viruses, spyware, trojans, keyloggers, rootkits, ransomware and other cyber-attacks are ubiquitous, and they can enter a computer through many different channels. The damage that malware can do ranges from minor annoyance to data loss to identity theft. The latter can take years to remedy and cost thousands of dollars.

It's been shown that a computer left unprotected can be infected within minutes after going online! Protecting yourself against malware should be a high priority. There really is no excuse for not using an effective Internet security program. I have reviewed many of them here, and all are available in free versions.

Common Computing Mistakes

PASSWORDS: Is your online banking password "123456" or "abc123"? Do you use the same password for ALL of your online accounts? Weak or predictable passwords make it easy for hackers to plunder your bank account or hack your email. Below are some tips to help you create and manage strong, secure passwords. See also my advice on adding an "Extra Layer of Security" to your passwords, and a tool to find out of your online accounts have already been compromised.

OPERATING SYSTEM: Keeping Windows up to date is also a critical security chore. Hackers discover new vulnerabilities in the world's most popular operating system every month, and Microsoft issues critical security updates of Windows and other MS applications as fast they're fixed. The good news is that this free protection comes via the Automatic Updates feature, which Microsoft first implemented in the 2004 Windows XP Service Pack 2. If you have deliberately turned OFF automatic Windows updates, I strongly advise you to turn it back on.

SOFTWARE: Application software also needs to be kept up to date and secure. Many malware packages target vulnerabilities in Microsoft Office, Adobe Reader, Java, and other popular applications. Automatic updates are available for many applications, and they should be enabled so you can easily receive security updates. Manual checks for updates should be performed at least monthly if automatic updates are not available.

DOWNLOADS: When downloading and installing new software, you're often presented with an endless series of 'Next' or 'OK' buttons. You might be tempted to mindlessly click through them, just to get it over with. But that can lead to some nasty surprises. Here are some things to be aware of when downloading, and a nifty tool that makes the process simpler and safer...

WIRELESS: If you use any wireless devices at home (smartphone, tablet, e-reader, laptop) you need to make sure your wireless router is secured. Failure to do so can give unauthorized persons access to your files, or the ability to use your Internet connection for illegal purposes. You may even be legally liable if you don't lock down your router. If you use public wifi on a mobile device, there's another set of things you need to watch for.

BACKUPS: Backing up your data is probably the most neglected computing safety chore. And a backup can bail you out of so many problems, whether it be be hardware failure, a software glitch, a virus, or human error. The backup tools built into Windows 7, 8 and 10 will do an adequate job of backing up just your data or your entire hard drive. But there are better (even free) backup utilities and online storage services for your backups. Don't forget about the important stuff on your smartphone and tablet -- they need to be backed up too. And what about your online accounts -- Facebook, Twitter, and email? If you don't have a comprehensive plan to safely backup all your data, you need to start on that today.

CLICK HAPPY? Don't fall victim to "phishing" scams, which are attempts to trick you, by impersonating a person or institution you trust. These can come to you by email (sometimes with personal details gleaned through data breaches) or as popups while browsing the Web.

TECH SUPPORT SCAMS: On a related note, the tech support scam seems to be gaining momentum. If you receive an unexpected phone call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft or "Windows Support," just hang up. You may also see websites with warnings that your computer has a virus, urgently directing you to call a toll-free number. The goal of these scammers is to extract money from your wallet, and in some cases they will infect your computer by remote access.

SO MANY THINGS: The "Internet of Things" is a catchphrase to describe all the gadgets entering our lives that can be connected to the Internet. Coffee makers, doorbells, toys, cars, light bulbs and other connected devices come with both benefits and risks. Learn more about how to protect your home and computers from the security and privacy threats these devices can bring.

The biggest mistake most users make is assuming that the worst will never happen to them. Paying attention to these essential tasks can prevent a myriad of privacy, security and computer problems. Follow the links above and learn how to protect yourself from viruses, identity theft, data loss and sluggish performance. Have you made any of these mistakes? Can you think of other common computing mistakes?

Please share this article with family, friends, and feel free to post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "TEN Common Computing Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)"

Posted by:

10 Mar 2017

In today's digital world, anyone that uses a computer and internet connection is at risk, no matter how little you think you put at risk. Your highest priority should be to secure your personal information, otherwise you will receive what we call an "ID 10 T" error (read "Idiot").

Posted by:

10 Mar 2017

Thanks Bob, I appreciate it when you go over the basics for us.

Posted by:

10 Mar 2017

#11. Leaving a smartphone unattended in a public place such as on a car seat or a restaurant table.

Posted by:

10 Mar 2017

I do not worry about as I use PCMATIC and have for years with SWUPERSHIELD no wories

Posted by:

Granville Alley
10 Mar 2017

Actually, the biggest issue for most half-way knowledgeable users today is the continuing drive by OS makers to make the OS more and more opaque to users. When we could control many parameters, when we had relatively fine control over how our computers resources were allocated we decided how things worked. But as Microsoft and other OS makers have "refined" their Operating Systems to make them more and more obtuse, have hidden or removed basic controls from users, the likelihood of failure or irritating limitations on usage in the name of "protecting" us becomes more and more extensive.

Add to this the ridiculous use of streaming video ads on virtually every website which gobbles up users bandwidth and resources and you find yourself limited to having open less and less windows than just a few years ago. One of the most irritating things to me is this combination of factors which means that my computer that has exponentially more power in virtually every element from Processing Speed, Number of Cores, Available RAM, Available Mass Storage, Much faster Mass Storage with SSD's, etc., etc. and yet I find my computer basically performing at the same levels as my IBM AT with 512k Ram and 20 MB of storage.

I buy more and more capability and find the OS makers and abusive website designers, intrusive advertisers basically stealing my clock cycles, my resources, my bandwidth so I see little or no improvement in my actual productivity. I watch my 100 MB p/s fiber-optic internet connection ground to a halt by multiple websites feeding streaming video ads I never see nor wish to see. I see my 32 GB of RAM on my i7 PC with 1GB SSD showing no resources available when I have less windows open than I could regularly open just a few years ago as Windows 10 tries to micromanage every aspect of my computing environment and the OS and my various Application Software compete to grab up every resource even when sitting in background or performing trivial operations.

I have watched for more than 40 years as computers become more powerful, as even my phone is now more powerful than mainframes from the 60's and 70's or for that matter the 90's. And while on the phone side I have gained tremendous capabilities like GPS, powerful mapping and communications, even it has been and is being limited daily by targeted ads and by constant attempts to harvest my personal information.

My personal computer now has search capabilities that are more likely to give me a huge variety of off-point advertising driven results or results that reflect the political bias of the search provider. Pertinent, responsive results may be buried 10's or even hundreds of pages back in the results buried by redundant and off-point or biased results. At the same time the search providers are gathering data to feed me more and more useless ads that try to sell me something I just bought, because after all it is "targeted" so for weeks after I buy a new router, I will see router ads and videos, or for months after I have closed a mortgage loan I will see ads for mortgages I no longer need. All in the name of being relevant. This is not relevant this is merely irritating.

If my search engine actually gave me relevant responses, I would find things I am actually interested in, not crap I have already bought or researched last week for someone else. If my search engine was not trying to gather every possible data point of every search I make or every website I visit and if every website I visited did not try to track all my future web activity so they could sell it to some other advertiser or someone trying to sell me things I do not want, then maybe I would have the capabilities of the computer I bought and paid for instead of having theses resources stolen.

I would argue that the 10 most common mistakes are actually abuses by the technology software, Operating System, and Search Engine providers who have stolen the increasing capabilities of our computers to advance their agendas rather than allowing me to advance my own.

Posted by:

10 Mar 2017

I'm just going to give a +1 (ok, +1,000) to Granville Alley. I was starting to think gee, maybe my Win 7 system isn't up to snuff. Granville Alley's post confirms, for me, that it is all the stuff we don't want to see on our systems but gets put there by websites is what is slowing our systems down.

Posted by:

Granville Alley
10 Mar 2017

I would add that this is not just Microsoft and Google, although they, because they along with Apple are the biggest, they are also in many ways the worst or the most impactful. I also have (and my main computer is) an iMac 27" with 1 GB SSD and 32 GB of RAM, i7 Processor and the most powerful Video Option available. And although it has taken longer (by several years), I am now finding the same ridiculous website video ads eating up my macOS and Computer Resources and now find I have to reboot my Mac due to "no resources available" or a spinning website activity symbol that never stops.

While this was a common experience on my PC for the last few years it is now all to common on my Mac and I now find I have to reboot my Mac with regularity where in the past I never had such issues. Now I realize my wife and I utilize many connected devices in our household, but by careful testing I can state unequivocally that the common denominator of bandwidth and/or resource issues are abusive websites, issues with OS resource management (whether Windows or MacOS), Search Engines, Web and Search Advertising and tracking cookies and ill-behaved resource hog applications.

I spent years never having to reboot my Macs (while regularly being required to reboot my PCs) but the obtrusiveness of Abusive Search Engines and Website Advertising can now even drag my very capable Mac to a stop. This is ridiculous and these advertisers and providers of "targeted advertising" have long ago passed the point of diminishing returns and I believe will find that their abusive video ads will be beyond counterproductive and will lead to many websites losing many if not most of their users.

I wish these were things we could control short of simply banishing the worst offenders from our computing lives, but because we no longer control so many aspects of our computing environment, the only answer may be to simply boycott sites and search engines that are particularly abusive. So my Number 1 way to protect yourself and your computer is to banish abusive websites and search engines from your computing life.

Posted by:

Granville Alley
10 Mar 2017


I appreciate the article you wrote and agree with all the points in it, it is a great outline of basic computing and web safety advice. I appreciate also your allowing my rant, as I truly believe that many peoples issues to day are out of their control and are caused by the very technology providers who we love abusing us.

Posted by:

10 Mar 2017

Except for one minor exception -- everything that Granville Alley stated.

Concerning the abuses of search engines... try StartPage (https://www.startpage.com/). It uses Google, but with privacy.

Posted by:

Craig Beard
10 Mar 2017

Based on JP's comment, I had a look at StartPage and found it most interesting. However, I'm otherwise unfamiliar with it. Bob, do you have any thoughts on it?

Posted by:

10 Mar 2017

Use a standard user (non-administrator) account is THE SIMPLEST MOST EFFECTIVE way to avoid issues. YouTube video here: https://youtu.be/0sn8EihQCqw

Posted by:

11 Mar 2017

I went to what I thought was the Microsoft support site had the Microsoft logo and was greeted the same way as Microsoft but, if was not Microsoft and these guys got into my computer by remote because I thought I was talking with Microsoft techs. These guys showed me that there were warnings on my hard drive and all sorts of bad things on my computer. I keep all my information on Flash Drives so I started wondering what was going on, then they hit me with we can clean up your computer for $600.00 at this point I closed down my computer and went off line, I came close to being scammed only because the only things on my computer is my OS windows games and just programs that are extra things like puzzles. I contacted Microsoft and it was not their techs. So beware

Posted by:

Gary in SE Wisconsin
11 Mar 2017

Granville Alley summed it up perfectly and told it like it is! Thank you Bob and Granville Alley.

Posted by:

Old Man
12 Mar 2017

Although most of this is not directly associated with the topic of this article, I agree with what Granville Alley posted.
My biggest complaint for many years is how the programmers take advantage of the extra computing power we get by bloating their programs. The end result is the poor consumer is left no better off than they were before – sometimes even worse.
As for the Internet, I made a similar comment on another article. We get more bandwidth to do more, but the websites take it all – and then some – filling pages with useless ads that take excessive time downloading. Then the website uses advertising companies that keep changing the ads, which causes the page to jump around. Throw in the sites that have auto-run video that cannot be turned off. The constantly changing high-graphic ads and videos also use a lot of computing power. I really feel sorry for the people who live in remote areas and consider themselves lucky if they can access the Internet through a 56K dialup modem.
People have been complaining about targeted advertising for years. AdChoices is probably the worst offender. They glean information from various shopping sites, search engines and any other possible source and inundate the surfer with unwanted ads. They are also the ones who provide the constantly changing ads that mess up pages we want to view.
I will call exception the Windows being a main culprit, though. When I switched from Win 7 to Win 8, I noticed a significant reduction in resources used. Win 8.1 increased a very little. Win 10 uses way less resources than Win 7. So, at least MS is slimming down their OS.

Posted by:

Granville Alley
13 Mar 2017

Old Man,

Thanks for your kind comment. I do not disagree that at its base level Windows 10 is more efficient in resource usage than some earlier iterations of windows. My complaint is that Windows has become more and more inaccessible to even knowledgeable users as Microsoft has hidden or removed access to more and more settings that users once controlled. In the name of protecting us and making things "easier", they have actually allowed websites and application software to set parameters and hooks deep in the code and prevented (in many cases intentionally and I would argue with malice aforethought) users from being able to limit resources available to websites or application software. This allows advertisers to in many ways have more granular control of our systems than we do. You will note that there is a continuing war between the ad-blocking, anti-pup, anti-malware software world and the advertisers and Microsoft, Google and even Apple have clearly come down on the side of the Advertisers.

I hope that someday the OS Providers will realize that destroying the user experience whether directly by bloat and obtuseness or indirectly by allowing (encouraging or enabling) advertisers, bloatware providers, etc. to take control of resources in unhelpful ways, is causing their users to seek alternative platforms.

My argument is that I did not buy a high powered computer with a powerful graphics engine and tons of RAM and expensive SSD software in order to enable advertisers to throw more and more crap at me or in some ways worse to defraud the people who are paying them to advertise to hide all kinds of bandwidth hogging video I can not even see but still is running (and presumably some "ad provider" is being paid for and is gobbling up my resources. If the OS makers do not give me back more control and do not quit siding with those who harm my experience eventually someone smart will build an OS that effectively blocks all this crap, lets me use my computer for what I want to use it for and will end up with a very substantial share of the market and the incumbent OS leaders will pay the price.

Posted by:

Granville Alley
13 Mar 2017

I thing, I wish you would allow users to edit their posts to correct typos, etc. Sometimes spell check and sometimes just failure to review leads to errors that then require an additional post to clarify. For example in my last post, the first sentence of the final paragraph has an unintentional error and should have said "expensive SSD Drives and Application Software" not "expensive SSD software". This would have been a simple correction was an edit function available but now requires a lengthy explanation.

Posted by:

13 Mar 2017

Entirely agree both with you, Mr Rankin, about the main dangers, and with Mr Alley about resource hogging.

One caveat: you describe Windows own Backups as adequate. I have to say, that I have never been able to recover anything from a Windows Backup (and not for years from Restore, either). But you rightly point out that proprietary ones are often better (I have found both Macrium and Aomei effective, though they both have niggles) - and I have an on-line backup as well.

When it comes to Windows updates, however, the issue at the moment is that M$oft does not send out security updates at once, unlike browsers, &c. - they can be delayed for weeks, and then come now as 'roll-ups'. At least they seem to have yielded to some extent on interrupting W10 (though personally I am staying with W7 while I learn Linux, I have to "maintain" my family's machines, and W10 is a really horrid system to try to modify).

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