A Weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch




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October 31, 2003

Frightening, but true

© 2003, Douglas E. Welch

While I certainly don’t like to dwell on computer horror stories, there are always lessons to be learned from the mistakes of others. Whether you are protecting your own computer, or those of your clients, it pays to be aware of the computer problems that can arise on a daily basis.

Virus and Worms and Trojans, Oh My!

Perhaps the largest technology problem today, and one of most preventable, is infection or damage to computer systems by virus, worm or Trojan horse programs. Despite my constant (and probably annoying) harangues, some people are still unprotected against these malicious programs. In several cases I have spent hours with clients digging through layer after layer of problems when a few minutes of preparation and a few dollars of software could have prevented the whole problem.

One user had installed a Trojan dialer program that connected to a 900 number whenever he tried to connect to the Internet. Luckily, it only occurred once before we discovered it, but it could have resulted in hundreds of dollars of phone charges. Possibly even more damaging are viruses that randomly send out documents to random people in their list of contacts. During the last outbreak, I received personal documents from a host of people who I am sure didn’t want their data made public.

Do everything in your power to protect your clients from the effects of viruses and other malicious programs and the benefits will come back to you a hundredfold. Most anyone can understand just how much time and money you will have saved them.Spams and scams
I am also fighting a constant battle against scammers and spammers (sometimes one in the same). I have worked very hard to educate my clients about the various scams out there. One of my most important rules is “call/email me if you have any doubts.” Oftentimes this allows me to stop them forwarding a hoax email to all their friends and relatives. In some cases, it prevents them from sharing their personal information with someone who is trying to steal credit card numbers, social security numbers and the like.

You should do everything you can to insure that your clients call you before doing something that might be damaging. It is so much easier to solve a problem before it occurs than deal with the consequences after. An important part of this is informing your clients of the sad fact that, just as in the real world, there are people who will try to take advantage of them online. Some of my clients have expressed honest wonder that there would be people out there trying to profit from someone else’s naiveté. While I don’t go overboard with horror stories, I do make it clear to them that they have to protect themselves and be aware of what is happening online.


If you have worked in a high-tech career for any amount of time you have horror stories related to the failure of clients to back up their files. If you are like me, you yourself have been caught unaware a time or two over the years. It’s easy to get complacent. Backing up data, especially as you gather more and more gigabytes becomes more onerous and time consuming. This only makes backups all the more important as there is so much more to lose.

Help your clients avoid backup horror stories. In some cases, this means starting at the beginning and teaching them the why and how of backups. Many people don’t understand the need for multiple copies of their data until their system fails and they lose important records or other information.

With the major increase of digital photography, a hard drive failure could mean the loss of years and years of family or business photographs. Email has become a business lifeline for almost everyone. Losing all your stored email could be as disastrous as a fire in the office file room.

Find software and hardware that allow clients to easily back up their data over time with a minimum of work required. Setup automatic backups to a second hard disk or network file server. Setup a backup server that automatically gathers files from the PCs in a small office. Do whatever it takes to prevent the backup horror stories of which we have all heard or experienced first hand.
The truth about high-tech horror stories is that most of them need never occur. One way to build your high-tech career is to work diligently to insure that none of your clients (or your own business) ever experiences these horror stories first hand. Prevention is always far more preferable to repair and recovery.

Book of the week: Use What You’ve Got and Other Business Lessons I learned from My Mom by Barbara Corcoran with Bruce Littlefield

about this column.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on Douglas' web page at: http://www.welchwrite.com/dewelch/ce/

He can reached via email at douglas@welchwrite.com

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