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12 must-do PC tasks

Alex Castle | April 8, 2013
Computers may have become a lot more user-friendly over the past decade, but they're still far from perfect--PCs require a certain amount of configuration and maintenance to operate at their full potential. Unfortunately, because we humans are also far from perfect, we frequently don't put in the work we should, and we end up with a slower, sloppier, less secure machine as a result.

When TrueCrypt mounts a volume, your computer will see it as though it were a new hard drive. Open Windows' File Explorer and look for the new drive on your system--it should be empty. Move the folder of sensitive files onto this drive. When you're done, close TrueCrypt; the virtual hard drive will disappear. The sensitive files are now hidden inside the encrypted volume.

Whenever you want to access those files, you will need to remount the volume in TrueCrypt, so make sure that you don't lose the volume file or forget its password. Speaking of passwords...

Change your passwords

Performing this task is just as crucial as backing up your data. Most users, unfortunately, make several fundamental password errors that can compromise their online accounts and data, and the easiest way to fix them is to start over from scratch. When you're selecting new passwords, you should keep the following three tips in mind.

First, create a strong password. A password that's too short or too simple is a password that's easy to crack. To keep yours safe, make sure that it contains at least 10 characters, and include a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters as well as symbols and numbers. A letters-only password, however, can still be secure as long as it's at least 20 characters long.

Second, don't use the same password across multiple websites. Even people who pride themselves on using a secure password often fall into the trap of reusing passwords. Do that, and a security breach at any site you use could compromise your most sensitive accounts. If you absolutely can't manage different passwords for each of your accounts, at least use a unique password for your email account and for any accounts with sensitive financial information.

Finally, don't get too attached. No security system is perfect, which is why it's important to change your passwords regularly. If somehow one of your passwords is cracked or leaks, you don't want someone to be able to snoop on you indefinitely. By changing your most important passwords every six months and your less-sensitive passwords every year, you can minimize the damage done in the worst-case scenario.

If you're following these three rules already, congratulations: You're one of the responsible few. If not, it's time to get serious about password security. If you're worried that following these rules might be difficult, one simple program that can help you out is KeePass, a free, open-source password-management application that can track all of your passwords as well as generate randomized, highly secure passwords on demand.

Optimize startup

One of the most frustrating experiences in computing is waiting for a slow-as-molasses startup to finish. You have to wait through the POST (power-on self-test) screen, then pass the Windows Startup screen, and then tolerate the most irritating part of all: when you can see your desktop but the computer is still unresponsive and too slow to use. Of course, it wasn't always like this--when you first bought the PC, startup was a breeze. So what happened?


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