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Ask Slashdot: How Would You Secure Your Parents' PC? 408

Posted by timothy
from the what's-the-late-2013-version? dept.
New submitter StirlingArcher writes "I've always built/maintained my parents' PC's, but as Mum has got older her PC seems to develop problems more readily. I would love to switch her to Linux, but she struggles with change and wants to stay with Vista and MS Office. I've done the usual remove Admin rights, use a credible Internet Security package. Is there anything more dramatic that I could do, without changing the way she uses her PC or enforcing a new OS on her again? One idea was to use a Linux OS and then run Vista in a VM, which auto-boots and creates a backup image every so often. Thanks for any help!"
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Ask Slashdot: How Would You Secure Your Parents' PC?

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  • by wbr1 (2538558) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @12:50PM (#45695677)
    Like email, browsing, and perhaps some photos and videos, get a tablet. I hate to add to the PC market shrinking (it is my main bread and butter), but a tab is typically simpler, and more than enough for many use cases.
    Additionally, you can root and do a nandroid backup on initial setup as a quick imaging routine in case of problems.
    Disclaimer, I wrote this on the commode with a nexus 7.
  • by JoeyRox (2711699) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @12:52PM (#45695695)
    Most people don't need the flexibility and attendant hassles of PCs anymore. Just give them an iPad or Nexus and be done with it.
  • Apple (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tonywestonuk (261622) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @01:05PM (#45695805)

    When I see comments like this, I am SOOOO grateful that mum bought a core duo imac 6 years ago, and it still is going strong....

  • by smash (1351) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @01:10PM (#45695849) Homepage Journal
    You, the OP, are a nerd. Your parents are not. Apple get "normal people". Do them a favour and get them something they won't hate.
  • by crackspackle (759472) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @01:16PM (#45695921)

    Might wanna take out the CPU as well, just in case.

    One might assume some 35 years after the advent of PC revolution, there are more than a few grey hairs running around like me with infinitely more knowledge on how to secure a computer than some smart mouth tweener. Having spent years securing their computers, I would not trust any child of mine to do a better job than I would and it's time to put the tired meme that kids know tech better than their parents to bed where it belongs.

  • by Shoten (260439) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @01:34PM (#45696105)

    Not as good as it used to be, we run Forefront which uses the same definitions and have had a number of things get through it as of late.

    MSE used to be good, but MS seems to have really slipped up last couple of years. They have fallen to the bottom of all the tests, that they use to be in the top of, and even if you don't believe in tests, more and more real-world reports of things slipping through, like poster above here. It has gotten so bad that MS themselves now publicly recommend that their customers use additional 3rd party AV []. That is pretty damning.

    The test you refer to (not tests) is a notoriously vendor-driven one, which really has no credence with the larger AV community. And there's a bit of misinterpretation; MSE is designed to be compatible with another AV solution, so that the two can coexist. This is made possible by the fact that MSE integrates with Windows as only a Microsoft product could. MS didn't say "don't use our solution all by itself, the MSE r h4x0red!"

  • by EuclideanSilence (1968630) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @01:36PM (#45696127)

    My parents computers don't have missile launch codes on them, they don't need to be secure. They need to be recoverable.

    1) Any photos, bookmarks, etc that you want to keep: have a copy of it on a backup DVD
    2) Be able to format and reinstall

    Anything else is just extra.

  • by Albanach (527650) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @01:36PM (#45696141) Homepage

    Something like Faronics Deep Freeze might be useful, restoring the computer to a clean slate after each reboot. You still want your usual anti-virus and firewall to protect the machine when it's running, but at least your parents would know that if things break a restart should generally fix everything.

    Leave My Documents and the browser profile unfrozen and set up a regular backup of files written there, taking precautions to make sure the backup isn't susceptible to encryption by ransomware.

  • by Ksevio (865461) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @01:50PM (#45696283) Homepage
    It's better in that it stays out of the way a bit more - it updates with Windows Update and doesn't require registration.
  • by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @01:53PM (#45696311) Homepage Journal

    Your parent's PC(s) don't hold any credit card numbers, or personal information that might embarrass them? Not even a baby picture of a (gasp) nude child which might mark them as (GASP) pedophiles?

    Sorry, but your assertion is terribly naive.

  • iPad. Seriously. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dawnkelly (81341) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @01:54PM (#45696313)

    I bought my Mother an iPad 2 years ago. I didn't realize how profound the change over was for her until I saw her helping one of our other relatives with their new iPad. Not only had she mastered her iPad, it made her feel smart again.
    She still has her Vista desktop connected to a printer and uses it when she needs to print or fill out online forms. But that only happens a couple times a year. We even got her a little JBL dock so that she could listen to music last year and she fell in love with the iPad all over again. It's crazy.
    But it was a good reminder for me. Technical people get caught up in different camps (i.e. Linux vs. Windows vs. Mac). We forget that good tech is good tech. And when you can watch your own tech-resistant parents become empowered by one device. It's good tech.
    I specifically went with an iPad because of their walled app garden. Higher functioning users could probably be just fine with an android tablet but this was my Mother. A woman who gets very emotional when things don't work right. And now 90% of my extended family have iPads because of her.
    So before you think about changing your Mother's desktop, change the way you're looking at the problem. Users will try to tell you what they think they need but *hopefully* most of us are smart enough to go back and ask them what the problem is (not what they think the solution should be).
    As I said, we did keep her desktop but the tasks that would open her up to viruses (surfing) now happen on the iPad. I went from having to clean her machine 4 or 5 times a year to zero. Getting that time back was well worth the price of the iPad.

  • by Chelloveck (14643) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @02:24PM (#45696575) Homepage

    "I think my computer has a virus."

    "What makes you think that, Dad?"

    "Well, it's been running slow lately. And once a website popped up a notice saying it had detected a virus on my machine."

    "... It did?"

    "Yeah. I downloaded and ran the program it suggested but it seems even worse now."

    "You're right, Dad. Your computer has a virus. Better take it to the repair guy."

    True story. I love my parents, but they're three hours away by car, I gave up on Windows years ago, and there's no way I can talk them through a de-lousing session over the phone. ("Open the control panel. Go to the start menu... No, the one in the lower-left. Now click on it. LEFT click. Press the button on the left side of the mouse, Dad...") Computer repair shops still exist, or in the worst case they can take it to the Geek Squad who at the very least can re-image the damned thing.

  • by SydShamino (547793) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @02:29PM (#45696613)

    Sometimes the correct answer to a question is one the asker doesn't want to hear.

    This is the correct answer. Guy should give his mom a tablet for Christmas, for "when you'd rather sit on the sofa than at the computer desk". Six months later, either he'll find it's never used (which means he's just out some money) or that she uses it exclusively (which means the problem is solved, as she's now adapted to another OS - acceptable because it's "on a tablet" instead of another PC OS).

    Tablets are what parents should have been getting in 2000-2005 instead of all the PCs that were used instead, if only they had existed in non-suck forms.

  • by i.r.id10t (595143) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @02:31PM (#45696625)

    Or even a high speed connection that could be used as part of a botnet?

    Even if all you have installed is a browser, and you have no bookmarks or other personal data, you should keep your box secure to help prevent botnets, spambots, etc.

  • Re:Sell them. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 15, 2013 @02:32PM (#45696631)

    Ridiculous... Last thing i would ever want to do is charge my parents for computer repair. I owe them a lot for their time and commitment invested in me to make me the man i am today. I am sorry you don't feel that way about your parents.

  • by mwvdlee (775178) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @02:44PM (#45696727) Homepage

    I've never encountered a virus that was more difficult to remove than Norton.
    I've also never had as much damage from a virus as the damaged caused by simply running Norton.
    I quite honestly treat Norton as malware.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 15, 2013 @02:59PM (#45696841)

    Obviously you have not used McAfee.

  • by mveloso (325617) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @03:41PM (#45697187)

    The great thing about buying Apple is you can always send them to the Apple store for support, once you determine you can't solve the problem via screen sharing.

  • by Tom (822) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @05:25PM (#45698055) Homepage Journal

    1) Any photos, bookmarks, etc that you want to keep: have a copy of it on a backup DVD

    Doesn't work, never has and never will.

    Unless backup is automatic in the background with no user intervention required, regular people will not do backups, period.

    Apple's Time Machine is the biggest leap forward for home-user backup in... well, basically ever. Not because it's a technical marvel (it isn't), but because it's so simple and out-of-the-box that regular users actually use it.

  • by raymorris (2726007) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @11:22PM (#45700571)

    I hear what you're saying. I'm at the age where before long I'll be an old guy. The new kids will probably think I don't know anything about some new thing X, only to find out that I helped write X.

    My mother was a pioneer who helped bring major companies into the digital age. She's taught programming, database architecture, etc. and was a top ranking information systems executive for Fortune 100 companies. I learned a lot from her. It would be accurate to say she's forgotten more than most Slashdotters ever knew. That's one reason she calls me for help - because she's forgotten. The other day I mentioned a principle she taught me and she didn't know what I was talking about, having been away from it for 15 years.

    The other reason she calls me is because while she could patch a Unix BINARY by manually editing the machine code, Windows 8 is a new, foreign land. She had a Vista machine before this Windows 8 laptop, but she's much more comfortable with Solaris or System 7, or any environment that runs Cobol.

    I greatly respect her knowledge and experience, especially her deep understanding of timeless principles. She recognizes that today's systems and today's threats are not the same as the 8080 powered systems she wrote assembler for.

    I've been programming interactive web sites since 1997. Recently my wife, who is ten years younger than I, taught me a bit about Facebook.

    Each of us has strengths and weaknesses. In general, as we mature we synthesize random knowledge into principles - broadly applicable statements that reflect deeper understanding than feature X and product Y. When we're younger, we're interested in each new version of product Y, the new performance feature and this new security feature.

    The foolish young person might think that the "old guy" is out of date. The wise person who has seen some things realizes that the new kid actually DOES have something we could benefit from - the PFY often knows that the virus scanner we've loved for 20 years hasn't kept up, and he knows the new, improved tools.

    When I want to know relational calculus or how to bid a job without requirements, I'll ask the old guy. When I want to know how to uninvite someone from a Facebook event, I'll ask that kid over there who is building the Facebook app.

The first version always gets thrown away.