The simplest form of protection is to back up your files to another location in your computer, to an external drive, or to other computers you own. This approach allows for fast and easy transfers, but poses some risks--if your house burns down or a robber breaks in, for instance, you could lose your backup alongside the original data. That's why it's smart to use offsite storage, as well.
Fortunately, CrashPlan makes offsite backup easy. You can back up your data--encrypted, no less--to a friend's computer for free, as long as that person is also running CrashPlan on their computer and can spare the storage space. If you don't have a friend with enough disk space (and you don't want to buy them a new external hard drive for the purpose), you can sign up for CrashPlan's online backup service, which runs $33 per year for 10GB of storage or $60 per year for unlimited space.
Whether you're stashing your data online or offline, CrashPlan's automatic-backup feature takes a lot of the headache out of backup management. Even if you don't want to bother with software utilities, however, you owe it to yourself to back up your most critical files. Manually slapping data onto a DVD or an external hard drive is a lot better than doing nothing.
Guard against malware
If you've been using computers for a long time, you might be tempted to think that you don't need to run antivirus software. "I never open suspicious email attachments, and I stay away from sketchy websites," you might say, "and I haven't gotten any malware in years." And yet, you're still vulnerable.
As the Java breach in early January shows, you don't have to do anything stupid to get a virus, and it takes only one infection to make you wish that you had spent a few minutes to set up an antivirus suite. If you haven't done so yet, do it now.
The big question is whether to use free or paid antivirus software. Paid products offer the most comprehensive protection, and usually come with extra features such as a firewall and live support. However, if you follow basic precautions regarding what you download online, the core features of free antivirus utilities should be enough to protect you in conjunction with the baked-in Windows Firewall.
I recommend starting with AVG Anti-Virus Free. Our testing has shown that the AVG suite offers top-notch threat detection and removal, and the free version comes with a surprisingly robust set of features, including email, hyperlink, and download scanning. AVG Anti-Virus Free takes only a few minutes to set up--simply grab the downloader from the website and let it do its thing. Just be sure to uncheck the various AVG Secure Search and Security toolbar options during installation to avoid filling your system with unwanted bloatware.
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