By Leo Notenboom
The Question: My grandparents are paranoid about viruses. I have successfully convinced them not to install a couple dozen anti-viruses on their computer by showing them one of your articles, but I cannot convince them that, on a clean, updated, and anti-virus protected computer: (a) the risk of getting a virus is absolutely minimal (if not downright impossible) if you leave your laptop on (at home and with your front door locked) while you go to the restroom; (b) that computer viruses do not fly through the air, latching themselves onto the first computer that they see; (c) that typing in your SSN on a valid, SSL-encrypted official government site that requires your SSN for an official, valid reason over a wired Ethernet connection is pretty safe; (d) that the number of computer hackers trying to break into their (non-state secret containing) computers at any given moment is at least much, much less than ten and possibly even nil. The worse part is that I can’t find any articles online about computer malware myths that are non-technical enough for my grandparents to understand, and they don’t trust me when I say that one antivirus, a clean updated computer, and a dose of caution (don’t open attachments from strangers, don’t believe everything that’s said on the internet, don’t download files from unofficial sources) is more than sufficient to avoid the leagues of hackers that are out to get them. Sincerely yours, Tired of Memorizing 19-Digit, [A-Z,a-z,0-9] Random Passwords.
Your grandparents are not alone. Perhaps an extreme case, but certainly not alone.
With all of the admonitions that you might hear from various sources – including Ask Leo! – to keep your computer safe, you might think that even just taking your eyes off of your computer for a second would spell certain doom.
It’s nowhere near that bad.
If you heed all of those admonitions and have basic security and common-sense in place, your internet experience will be a safe one.
Let’s look at their concerns one by one.
Leave the computer on while you … get coffee.
(a) the risk of getting a virus is absolutely minimal (if not downright impossible) if you leave your laptop on (at home and with your front door locked) while you go to the restroom;
As long as you have a firewall in place – and if have a router, then you probably already do – there’s nothing that’s going to happen when you step away from your computer for a few minutes that will endanger it.
In fact, it’s probably safer than when you’re actually using it.
The vast majority of malware these days happens because of what you do – websites you visit, email attachments you open, and so on.
If you’re not there to do anything – well, then the chances of malicious software entering your system is effectively zero.
For the record, I leave all of my computers on 24 hours a day and they have been malware free for years.
This post is excerpted with Leo’s permission from his blog.
About Leo Notenboom
Leo A. Notenboom is the owner of Puget Sound Software, LLC and the Leo in Ask Leo!. Leo has been in the personal computer and software industry since 1979, as a software engineer, a manager of software engineers, and as a consultant. In 1983 Leo joined what was then a medium sized local company called Microsoft and spent the next 18 years in a wide variety of groups working on a wide variety of software. If you're running Microsoft Windows, if you've used a Microsoft development tool or Microsoft Money, or if you've ever purchased a ticket through Expedia, there's a good chance you've been touched by some of his work. And of course, since 2003, Leo has been answering your tech questions on Ask Leo!