There are a lot of myths surrounding computers out there, some based on reality, some based on "the way technology used to be" and some based on plain old fear and paranoia.
Some computer myths tend to be so prevalent that I often see veteran computer users falling prey to some of them. This week I thought I would try to dispel some of these myths.
The first myth I want to address is that, "if you connect to the Internet you will immediately become a target for some hacker who is out to steal your identity."
This myth is one that is born out of paranoia and misinformation. We have all seen the stories in the news, stories about some hacker getting caught accessing some big company database or stories about some poor people getting their identities stolen, but the fact of the matter is most hackers just aren't interested in you. Hackers tend to go after the "big" targets, such as corporate databases, and don't spend too much time hunting individual end users.
But that's not what the Internet security software companies want you to think. There is a big market for computer security programs and firewall software, but if it's not configured or installed correctly (which is most of the time) it can bring your machine to a crawl and still leave you vulnerable.
As long as you have a quality, up-to-date anti-virus program installed and running, and have all the current operating system updates installed, you should be safe plugging your machine into the Internet.
If you're worried about identity theft, I would be more concerned about all those big corporate entities out there that already have your personal information on file.
It is databases such as those that are the real targets. Why take the time to hack into one user's machine for one identity when there are so many other systems out there that hold thousands (even millions) of identities in their databases?
Another common myth that I run into is, "regularly defragging my hard drive will make it run faster." This myth has its origins from the way technology used to be. Sure, if you are running an old 486 machine with Windows 95 and a 1 gig hard drive, defragging it periodically will clean things up a bit and give you a noticeable increase in performance.
If, on the other hand, you are running something a little more modern (any machine built within the last five years) defragging the hard drive all the time to increase performance is often just a waste of time. Furthermore, Windows operating systems from Vista on are set up to perform this chore automatically.
Any increase in performance gained by defragging will typically be un-noticeable. Sure, it's nice to see all those red areas turn blue when you do defrag a modern machine, but don't be fooled. You aren't gaining much. I will concede that running defrag periodically to "tidy up" is good practice, but it's not the cure-all that some people still think it is.
The next myth comes from unclear advertisements that some computer manufacturers run. Many ads today for new computers tout their systems as being "wireless ready" right out of the box. And, to a degree, this may be true, with things such as WiFi chips being built into the motherboard, but the thing that the ads tend to leave out (or bury in fine print) is that you need to be in an area of wireless service for it to work.
If you don't have wireless Internet access and are contemplating buying a new computer that's wireless ready because you are under the impression that it will connect to the Internet right out of the box, you are about to make a mistake. All this "wireless ready" stuff means is that you won't need any extra hardware to connect to an existing wireless service. It doesn't mean that you can just turn it on and be online as some people have been led to believe. In order for these systems to work, they need to be in a wireless "cloud;" either your own wireless service, DSL or cable plugged into a wireless router, or a public wireless hotspot, such as those found in many hotels, airports and coffee shops.
I hope this helps. Until next week, happy computing!
Sean McCarthy fixes computers. He can be reached at (772) 408-0680 or help@ComputeThisOnline.com (no hyphens).