Not Hacked? It’s Not Over Yet!

Let’s say that you manage to avoid getting hacked. You’re not out of the woods yet. You may still succumb to a threat that will have an impact upon most of us. See if you can figure out what it is as I talk about some instances I have seen.

Time and again, I speak with someone who feels they need to clear up some space on their computer. Perhaps their computer isn’t running as well as it used to. Perhaps they got some warning message. Whatever the reason, they are now deleting files that they no longer need to clear up some space and to clean things up.

The only problem is that, now that the files are deleted, some of their programs no longer work properly. They deleted files that shouldn’t have been deleted.

A variation of this is that perhaps you have multiple copies of a file. You delete some of the old ones. Then you find out, too late, that you deleted the wrong copy.

Illustration of files moving from laptop to trash can

Here’s another scenario….

You click on an icon, or go to a web page, and wait. And wait. And wait. So, you click again. Still no response. You start clicking on different things to try to get your computer to respond.

Several things can happen next.

Perhaps, after continued waiting, you end up with a dozen copies of the program you kept clicking on. You shut them all down (except one). No harm done, just some extra time wasted while all the extra copies of the program opened and you had to close them all.

Perhaps the delay was with a web page. You started clicking here and there because nothing was happening. Once the computer finally started responding again, you find out that one of your clicks was on a link that you couldn’t see until the web page loaded. Once the page loaded, the computer recognized your click, and followed the link. Probably, you just ended up somewhere other than where you wanted to. Of course, it’s always possible that you clicked somewhere that you really shouldn’t have, something malicious. But, most likely, it is OK and you just try again to go back to the original page.

Image of hourglass

In some cases, you may find that your computer seems to freeze up completely, and you try to just shut it down with the power button. Maybe it doesn’t even respond to your attempt to power it off, so you end up pulling the plug. Although computers very often can tolerate this, it is also a way that you can end up losing data.

You might just lose the file you were working on: when you try to open it, it is now corrupted and, if it opens at all, it is full of gibberish. Or, you may have lost a lot of work, because everything you had been working on was lost when the latest changes weren’t saved.

However, in some cases, powering off the computer like that can cause a major problem. Your entire hard drive can become corrupted. Now, when you try to turn on the computer, you may get ….. NOTHING. Or you may get a “blue screen” that says your computer can’t start.

It may be that the computer can be returned to normal operating condition by simply replacing a few files. But, it is also possible that the entire disk, or the part of the disk that holds ALL your data, is completely lost. I have seen this happen!

Here’s a third scenario. You are trying to do something with your computer. Maybe you have gone to a web page. Or maybe you are trying to run a program. A box pops up and asks you a question, perhaps to allow some action to occur. Many times, people just click on “continue” or whatever answer will get rid of the box so they can continue with what they want to do.

Perhaps you actually read that message box and try to respond to it appropriately. Now, suppose another box pops up. Maybe it says the same thing, or something similar. What if you get a half dozen or more of these messages popping up? At some point, people usually just click to get rid of them and don’t even bother to read them anymore. You may end up ignoring a box that is important. Certainly these are nuisances. But, often they are there for a good reason. Ignoring them could result in undesirable consequences later.

Have you been able to find any commonality in these scenarios?

We sometimes take actions that cause problems with our computers. Whether it’s because we don’t know what we’re doing, or we’re being impatient, or we’re not paying attention, we sometimes end up being the cause of the problems that occur.

These are just a few of the scenarios in which we take an action that causes a problem.

We don’t need someone else to hack our computer. We cause the problem all by ourselves.

One of these, or something similar, probably will happen to every computer user out there, sooner or later. Hopefully, we can try not to be a repeat offender. Hopefully, we can create good habits that save us from ourselves.

Here’s some guidance on things you can do in these situations:

Let’s say your computer has a problem. You might call someone. Or maybe you can fix it yourself. It isn’t always necessary to become a computer wizard to fix a problem. There’s a lot you can do with computers without needing to understand the technical details. Especially today.

In many cases, you can find good information on the Internet to guide you on how to do some of the things you don’t understand. Unfortunately, some of the information on the Internet is wrong. Sometimes, the writer makes assumptions and the information they provide may not apply in your case. Often, the correct answer to the problem depends on what kind of computer or version you are using. Be alert to those possibilities if you are looking for information on how to do something.

If you do try to find the answer yourself, and you have reason to believe the information is reliable, go ahead. How-to information can be especially helpful if you need to figure out how to do something like play a video, “burn” pictures to a CD or DVD, or change the background image on your screen.

But, when it comes to making the more technical changes to your computer, it is recommended that you at least be aware of your own limitations. If you don’t understand what you are doing, it might be a good idea to involve someone who has a better understanding.

If you do decide to go ahead, make sure you can change things back to the way they were before you started. If you are changing a setting that can be changed back to the way it originally was, that is a lot less risky than making a permanent change, like deleting things that you “think” are OK to delete.

Again, be aware of your own level of expertise, or lack of expertise, and don’t get in over your head. It can be fun to experiment with things. If you are “experimenting,” do so in a way that you can change things back to the way they were, if things don’t work out. And be prepared to call for help if you get stuck or create a problem that you don’t know how to fix.

What if your computer isn’t responding quickly enough and you are tempted to start clicking on things in the hope you can get something working or take some other step to intervene?

Of course, it may be that the first time you clicked (or double-clicked) on something, the computer really didn’t recognize what you did as a click. Maybe you moved the mouse a little bit at the same time you were clicking and it didn’t recognize it as a click. Or maybe you double-clicked but did it too slowly so that it thought you had performed two completely separate single clicks when a double-click was necessary. You might need to try it again.

But, if the computer did accept your click and it is just responding slowly, it’s not a good idea to start clicking around on things in the hope that maybe something will happen.

I have a recommendation if there is too long a delay: Get up and walk away from the computer and do something else. Come back in a couple minutes, or maybe even 15 minutes later.

I have an older computer and it is sometimes quite slow in responding. I have had many situations where a web page might freeze up. If I wait, it usually will eventually become available, perhaps after ten or fifteen minutes. I will often get up and go do something else while I wait. If I stay at the computer and wait, and wait, and wait, I am more likely to take some action that is unproductive, or that could cause some problems.

Image of coffee beans, a clock, and the words Have a Break

If you are getting impatient, upset, or frustrated, walk away. Take a time-out period. I recommend 15 to 20 minutes, doing something else that takes your mind off the computer situation. The body can take about that long to calm down after you get upset. (It can take much longer if you continue to stew over the situation, so do something else to take your mind off it.) Then, come back and see if the situation has been resolved. If nothing else, you’ll be in a better state of mind to respond to it after a break.

Here’s some other things you could try:

Close down other programs. It may take some time to do this. I have had occasions where it seems completely frozen. I move the mouse and the cursor doesn’t even move. But, if I wait, I find that after two or three minutes, the cursor has actually jumped to a new location. It just took FOREVER for it to respond. If I had assumed the computer was frozen and I had shut it down with the power button or by pulling the cord, I might have messed up my system or lost data.

You may be able to force programs to shut down by using the Task Manager to “end task” or “end process.” (Different versions of Windows have different ways to access the task manager. If you aren’t running Windows, there is a different way of doing the same thing.) You can do a search online for task manager. (There isn’t room in this post for that.) If you decide to do this, it is best to “end” only those programs whose names you recognize. “Ending” the wrong program could actually make your current situation worse.

 

If a situation comes up that requires some action on your part, consider the following:

Pay attention to any messages. If you don’t understand them, read them more slowly and carefully and try to make what sense you can out of them. Then, take the action that is least likely to have a possible bad result. (You may be able to do a Google search to get more information in order to make a choice. Or you could ask someone else.)

If you have a choice of a couple of options and it’s not clear which option to take, maybe you can wait until later to decide. Or, consider taking a course of action that can be undone later. E.g., if it asks you to “allow now” or “allow always,” it may be safer to say “allow now” so that your choice isn’t permanent.

Do you know what you’re doing? Do you understand what will solve the problem or why it is happening? (If not, you may be able to do a search online, e.g., Google or YouTube. Or you may be able to ask someone.) If the problem occurs repeatedly, it might be worth trying to find out why or what the best course of action to deal with it is.

 

It is likely that all of us, at one time or another, will take some action that causes a problem with our computer. But, by developing some good habits, you may be able to reduce the number of times that happens.

Some key things to keep in mind are:

Pay attention to what is happening. Don’t start making choices just to hurry through.

Think before you act, especially if you are experiencing an issue.

If the computer isn’t responding, give it some extra time. Anything you click on while waiting may slow things down further.

If you are getting impatient or upset, walk away until you get your emotions under control and your body returns to a more relaxed state. (Wait at least 15 minutes.)

If your computer tends to run slowly, don’t open too many programs or too many web pages at the same time.

Know your own limitations. Feel free to try new things. But know your limitations. Don’t take actions that might cause problems with your computer unless you know how to fix them if they occur.