Feature: Unhealthy PCs add risk and cost productivity

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Customer service

The vast majority of PC users are well aware of the importance of maintaining a healthy and secure computer. Failing to do so not only exposes the system to the threat of external attack, but also risks jeopardising productivity.

PCs which are riddled with spyware and viruses are of little use to business employees. They are increasingly reliant upon information and communications technology to do their jobs, and need secure, fully operational systems.

Unhealthy computers are not only insecure - creating unnecessary risks for businesses and individuals - but also slow and unstable, and at times, practically unusable.

IT security threats

A key aspect of maintaining a healthy PC is security best practice to reduce the risk of systems coming under attack over the internet.

Scott Charney, corporate vice-president for Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing Group, noted that for more than two decades, people have struggled to understand the cyber threat, evaluate risk and craft appropriate responses.

"Although many organisations have invested significantly in information assurance, most computer security experts believe that a well-resourced and persistent adversary will more often than not be successful in attacking systems, especially if raising defences is the only response to an attack," he stated.

"Commonly available cyber defences such as firewalls, antivirus and automatic updates for security patches can reduce risk, but they’re not enough. Despite our best efforts, many consumer computers are host to malware or are part of a botnet."

Mr Charney explained that computers which are not protected or have been compromised put others at risk - creating internal and external problems.

"We need to improve and maintain the health of consumer devices connected to the internet in order to avoid greater societal risk," he argued.

"To realise this vision, there are steps that can be taken by governments, the IT industry, internet access providers, users and others to evaluate the health of consumer devices before granting them unfettered access to the internet or other critical resources."

Taking a proactive approach

One approach to reducing risk is to prevent infected computers from being able to access the internet at all - essentially cutting the problem at source. This would potentially make it more difficult for malware and other online 'nasties' to spread across networks, serving as an additional layer of defence for PC users.

But in the mid to long-term, it is clear that more proactive - rather than reactive - approaches are needed to combat the problem of PC under-performance.

In an article for WindowsSecurity.com, technology commentator Darren Miller said it is important to ensure that some form of anti-virus, firewall and spyware protection is installed on a PC.

But he explained that there are various other factors that can affect PC health, in addition to cyber threats from external sources.

Users wishing to keep their computer running properly for an acceptable period of time need to ensure they follow basic PC housekeeping rules, , he suggested.

Ways to improve the health of your PC

Hard drive fragmentation is an important task to be completed every couple of weeks, Mr Miller claimed.

He explained that when software is installed and data is created, storage is not always in the form of a continuous disk file - fragmentation occurs over time meaning multiple locations are used.

Mr Miller noted that this inefficient approach slows things down "tremendously", impacting on PC performance levels and potentially impacting on end-user productivity.

"Just about every time you install a new application or piece of software you increase the time it takes to boot your PC," he stated.

The expert noted that when uninstall software is used, this process is not always entirely effective - which is why some users turn to registry cleaners.

"This can dramatically decrease boot times and in many cases increase the overall performance of your PC," he stated.

Taking care with downloads

Mr Miller said that when downloading from the web or purchasing software, it is important to pay close attention to what is being added to your system.

Users need to be fully aware of any changes that will be made to their computer, as outlined in the fine print, he stated.

"You may be agreeing to download and install something you don’t need or may impact the security and performance of you PC," Mr Miller noted.

Where essential updates are concerned, these should be downloaded from the vendor automatically in order to ensure the PC is kept up to date, he said.

"Microsoft releases security and bug fixes routinely and some of them are critical in nature," he noted.

"Something people tend to overlook is updating and patching their applications. For instance, Microsoft Office has critical security patches and performance enhancements available in the form of patches and service packs.

"It’s not just operating system bugs that can put you at risk, applications can too."

Posted by Alex Boardman