Protecting Your Digital World – Part 1

Whether you like it or not, a good part of your world is now digital and online. Even if you are still rooted in the paper world, most of the businesses and people associated with you have gone digital and your stuff is out there already. Most of us are taking advantage of the many digital tools and services today’s technology offers and getting huge benefits as a result. But, while we are enjoying the benefits, how many of us have plans in place to deal with disaster?

Yes, the digital apps, services and platforms you use have many security processes in place to protect the data they collect and store, but there are limits to how much security they can provide. Their biggest issue is often their customers. A bank can’t keep you from sharing your PIN with others and, if you use the same password for every online login account you have, someone hacking into your blog account now has access to your bank and every other online institution you use.

There’s more to protecting you digital world than just passwords. You need to protect your data from disasters (man-made and environmental) as well as criminals. Often, you also need to protect your data from yourself (we’ve all had those Delete . . . OH SHIT! moments). This article introduces the things you need to do to protect your digital world.

System Maintenance

The first thing you need to do is maintain your systems. Both your operating system and the apps you’ve installed on your computer are constantly being updated. These updates fix problems (called bugs) affecting the app’s performance and vulnerabilities that bad guys can use to hack into your computer. Be aware, too, that most software developers place limits on how long older operating systems and applications will be supported with updates. If your system is still running unsupported software, you are more vulnerable to attacks and other disasters.

Windows users will find the Windows Update applet in the Control Panel. This notifies you when there are updates to Windows and its associated apps (Internet Explorer, for example) but not your installed applications. Each of them has their own update system. The Windows Update app can be set to automatically check on a schedule you set and even go ahead and install any updates it finds.

The Mac App Store found on more recent Apple computers will automatically notify you of any updates to the operating system and any apps you’ve purchased through the store. Performing those updates takes just a tap on the Update button. Apps installed outside of the App Store will need to be checked and updated manually.

Don’t forget your portable devices either. Check your Android, iOS and Windows devices regularly and perform any required updates. Most devices require access to an app store to purchase software so updates will mostly be handled through your device’s store.

Antivirus Software

Have you installed antivirus software on your computer? Good! When did you last update your virus definitions? Definitions? What are definitions?

New malware is constantly being developed, but if your antivirus program doesn’t know the latest bad stuff exists, it can’t protect your system from it. In addition to keeping your software up-to-date, you need to be sure the virus definitions are updated regularly. Often, your antivirus app has settings to automatically check and install these updates, but it’s a good idea to regularly check to insure that’s happening. And, should you hear of some new virus spreading wildly, it won’t hurt to do a manual definition update to make sure your system is protected.

What does your antivirus application check? You have the ability to set when and where you want it to check for malware. I have mine set to check every email message I receive, every file downloaded to my computer and any file coming from an attached source (CD, memory card, external drive) when that source is connected to my system. In addition, I have it check my entire system weekly. I have that set that to happen overnight and leave my computer running so it doesn’t interfere with my work schedule. When you make changes to your system – like adding an external hard drive – check your settings on your antivirus software to make sure it’s being checked too.


One of the BIG advantage of a digital archive is that it is easy to duplicate. A family portrait is a one-of-a-kind treasure, but a high-quality digital photograph can be quickly and easily copied to any number of places. And, digital storage is a lot cheaper than physical storage. Don’t make just one copy of your digital archives – make multiple copies! Have a copy easily accessible on your computer, a backup on an external hard drive AND off-site backup. When editing a digital file – especially photos, graphics and video – make a copy of the original and work on the copy. These steps will protect you from human error, system crashes and environmental disasters such as fire, tornadoes or hurricanes.

There are apps already on your system that will perform simple backups – manual and automated. You may want a more sophisticated app – or even an online service that handles backups for you. Then, there are online platforms – like photo-sharing sites – that aren’t designed as backups but sure serve that purpose very well. The system you choose will depend on your data, workflow and your budget.

Next . . . managing passwords and social media smarts.

Antivirus Software

In part one of Protecting Your Digital World, I wrote about the need for an antivirus program to constantly check your systems for viruses, bots and other malware trying to control your computer. Now, let’s look at some of the applications that will help protect your system. Check each product carefully to see how it is licensed before spending your money. Some license their product by the computer while others require a license for each user. Many require annual subscriptions for virus definition updates. Be sure you understand all the costs before making your purchase.

  • Windows Security Essentials is a free download for Windows 7, Vista and XP users. Once installed, it automatically checks for updates daily. It’s notification system will tell you if a trojan or spyware app is trying to install itself on your system and you can perform both on-demand and scheduled scans of all or parts of your file system. 
  • Symantec offers several security packages in its Norton product line. These services are priced as an annual fee covering three PCs. The Norton 360 product also includes backup features and its PC Tune Up package for maintaining system performance.
  • McAfee also offers a number of security products ranging from basic antivirus protection for one computer to products total protection for all your computers and devices and even some with identity protection. Most products are priced as an annual fee for one PC.
  • Kaspersky offers a broad range of options in both security packages and number of devices covered. They also offer a Mac application. Like the other companies, these services are licensed annually, but there are purchasing options for multi-year licenses.
  • ClamAV is an open source antivirus engine with supporting apps for both Windows and Mac systems. It is a very functional system, but not as high performance as the commercial products.  Windows download. ClamXav for Mac.

You’ll find many more software options on the Antivirus page at Open Directory.