Okay, so you’ve eliminated junk mail, opted out for all those credit cards, and set up a small portable file system to help you manage all incoming paper. You’ve decided on a file naming convention. Now what? Before you sign on for on-line bill pay and eBills, consider how you’ll protect your data. I mean, you already back up all those digital photos you can never replace, right? Right?
So, the first thing is to ensure you have a good backup. For Macs, the first step is Time Machine which backs up your entire drive to an external drive. PC users should find that a lot of external drives have backup software included. This is the single most important advice I can offer anyone with a computer. Backup backup backup. Get the idea? The rest of this post is based on my suggestions. Take ’em or leave ’em, but at least read on and make your own choices.
Next? Consider encryption. There are good points and bad with encryption, so here’s where I suggest you do a little of your own research. But, you need to trust that your sensitive information (signatures, social security numbers, acct information, etc) is safe from falling into the wrong hands. You never know that everyone who has access to your computer is completely trustworthy. You wouldn’t encourage people to riffle through your paper filing cabinet, would you? You can use the free True Crypt for both Macs and PCs. Macs can also use the OSX included Sparse Disk Image. I won’t go into how to do this as there are tons of sites that give you step-by-step instructions. Is this step necessary? No, there’s biometric thumb drives and whole disk encryption or you could not encrypt at all. It’s your data and you should be comfortable with whatever risk you’re willing to take.
Okay. You’re backed up. You’ve read up on encryption and made your decision there. Now, make sure you have a plan for the worst case scenario – theft, or natural disaster. This means another backup – one that isn’t located or kept at your home/office. When it comes to considering disaster recovery you have a couple choices: Off-site or cloud. The choice is yours and where you put that trust. Off-site could be at a friend or relative’s house. It could be a safety deposit box. The cloud is easiest, you just pay for the service, do a little configuration, and the rest happens automatically. How often should you back up? The question is: How much data can you afford to loose? A day? A week? I have daily backups and then a weekly, bootable backup that is kept at a secure location. This is a plan that has to suit you and your needs.
You’re almost done. But not quite. Practice safe computing. You want to ensure that the computer stays free of viruses, spyware, and malware. You don’t want the files wide open for all who use the computer to easily see. Computer experts suggest that you lockdown accts, use strong passwords, run anti-virus and malware sweepers. I won’t go into the Macs don’t get viruses debate here. They aren’t bullet proof against Malware, no computer is immune. At least read up on Macs and malware. If you decide to get some protection for your Mac, there are some free choices out there. PCs have a few free choices, too if money is an issue. But PCs? It isn’t even a debate here. You need an anti-virus AND a malware/spyware scanner. And everyone should use common sense when clicking on links and websites. So, go and spend some time reading up on these things. A few good sites should do the trick.
There are a few other things to make your Mac or PC more secure. Again, I won’t go through steps for each, but after you’ve decided on the anti-virus and malware issues, a quick Google search for: Secure Windows 7, or XP, Vista, or Mac, should come up with a few excellent sites. These sites should tell you settings for such things as internet browser settings, logins, passwords, and other system settings designed to help keep you safe from all the nasties and thieves out there. It isn’t that hard and you won’t need to hire someone to do this (although you could).
When you’re done securing your computer or coming to peace with your choices about security, we’ll move on to the next step: eBills, on-line banking, and an email account only used for bill pay.