Sensible Precautions

I occasionally get asked about things like backups and passwords, and generally how to make one’s digital life a bit safer/easier, and I’ve been trying to write a reference blog post about this sort of thing for months, but it keeps running away with me. What follows is my opinion on the most sensible things one can do to make one’s digital life better.

Step One: Get a Mac.

Yeah, I know. They’re very expensive, and most people feel that a much cheaper Windows machine is, in some sense, better value. I disagree.

The ease of use of a Mac – the automation of backups, the lack of need to worry overly-much about viruses, and the overall better standard of the software, pays for itself in man-hours spent doing useful things instead of fighting with the operating system and doing tedious maintenance jobs.

More than that: you’ll probably find it has a much longer lifespan that any PC you’ve owned. I’m still using a Mac I bought in 2005 – not as my main computer, but I use it daily, and it’s working just fine. The laptop I’m writing on now, is three years old, but is showing no signs of age. I know plenty of people using five-year-old Macs who have no complaints about them. I don’t think I know many people who are 100% happy with their five-year-old PCs.

All that said: I’ve no interest in arguing with people who disagree, I’m just saying that in my professional opinion, the single thing you can do that will most improve your digital life, making it safer and easier, is to save up the money, and get a Mac. But if you disagree, well, the rest of this guide should still work for you. Basically: as long as you’re using a computer that you’re actively happy using, then you’re using the right computer for you.

Step Two: Backups

Buy as large an external hard drive as you can afford. Plug it in.

If you’ve got a Mac, Time Machine will offer itself up – set it up, and away you go.

If you’ve got anything else: get an account with Crashplan and install their software. They offer a version that does free local backups – so all you need to do is buy an external hard drive, plug it in, and set it up, and it’ll keep a local copy of everything you need.

If you can afford it, I also strongly suggest getting a paid account with them (on both Mac and Windows) and using their internet backups as well. That way, if you’re burgled, and your hard drive stolen, or your house catches fire, or something like that, then while you might have lost all sort of things, you won’t have lost your data.

Step Three: Passwords

If you heed no other advice in this post (and I know there are perfectly valid reasons not to) heed this: get a password manager. Get 1Password or Lastpass.

There are only two passwords in your life you should be able to remember and type by hand: your log on password for your computer, and a second password that unlocks your password manager. Everything else should be 20 or more random characters, mixing numbers, letters and punctuation, held in a password manager. If you can remember and type your gmail password, or your amazon password or your facebook or twitter password, it’s not secure enough. And if you’re using the same password for more than one website, it’s definitely not secure enough.

Step Four: Anti-Virus

Install Sophos. Honestly: I’ve been using a Mac for long enough that my anti-virus recommendations may be hopelessly out of date. I mostly rely on the fact that Mac viruses are few and far between, and that I never open unexpected email attachments to keep me virus free. But back when I was using Windows based systems, Sophos was far and away the best one I found.

That’s really pretty much it. There’s other things I could recommend – browser extensions to do improving privacy and security, but the big ones are really: use a good backup system and a password manager.

I hope that lot is useful to someone.

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