Personal Computers

We are often asked, by Department members, for personal computer buying advice, so here are a few things to think about;

Psychiatry IT recommends that you review the computer system requirements, for all of the software that you intend to use on the computer, then make that the baseline system that you purchase. If you buy a computer based purely on initial purchase price, you will regret it within in a few years.

Operating system

Both Microsoft (Windows) and Apple (Macintosh) make very valid operating systems, for home computer use. If you use specialized software, you may want to lean toward Windows, since more software is written for it. If you are graphically inclined, the Macintosh operating system may be a better choice.

Chassis/Form

Most computers come with all of the internal cards (video, audio and networking), that you will need for the life of the computer, so why get a big tower, that's mostly empty space? Several manufacturers offer compact chassis models, which are about 1/2 of the volume of a typical "mid-tower" or go even smaller and get an Mac Mini or Lenovo Tiny model.  A full size tower can use up to 500 watts of energy, vs a Tiny at 65 watts.

Laptop/Notebook

You'll pay at least 50% more for a notebook computer, with the same computing power and a much smaller display. The typical life-span of a notebook is only 3 years vs 5 years for  a desktop.

Video and Audio

Don't spend money on computers with fancy video and audio systems, unless you have a specific need. They are primarily aimed a gamers.

Hard Drive

If you have a lot of photographs or music, on your computer, do get a decent size hard drive (750Gb or larger).

Backup

Make sure to save some money for a backup system of some sort, so you don't loose irreplaceable photos and documents, if your computer is stolen, has a hardware failure or is lost to a fire. We advise backing up to another location, either to a friend's computer (e.g. CrashPlan) or using an online backup service like Mozy.

Physical Security

Do consider the physical security of your computer, particularly if you use a laptop. Psychitry IT frequently hears of people who have had their laptops stolen from cars, coffee shops and airports. More than 1 in 10 laptops will be stolen, within their lifetime! All laptops and most other computer equipment have a "K-Slot". You can buy a security cable that can be wrapped around a larger object and attached to the "K-Slot", to curtail theft. Some even have motion detection alarms.

Security

Unfortunately, there are lots of criminals out there. The time to take precautions is now.  Both Mac and PC need antivirus software.  As a UBC employee you are eligible for a free Sophos Antivirus, for your personal computer.  Please go to it.ubc.ca and use your Campus Wide Login account to download a copy.

Passwords

Think twice before choosing passwords for computer logons, emails, online bank accounts and airline tickets. Passwords that show no imagination or distinctiveness are easy prey for information pirates, a recent US study says that a statistical analysis of 28,000 passwords recently stolen from a popular US website and posted on the Internet reveals that people often do the easy thing.
It found that:

  • 16 percent took a first name as a password, often their own or one of their children.
  • 14 percent relied on the easiest keyboard combinations to remember such as "1234" or "12345678." For those using English keyboards, "QWERTY", was popular. Likewise, "AZERTY" scored with people with European keyboards.
  • 5 percent of the stolen passwords were names of television shows or stars popular with young people like "hannah," inspired by singer Hannah Montana. "Pokemon," "Matrix," and "Ironman" were others.
  • The word "password," or easy to guess variations like "password1," accounted for four percent. Three percent of the passwords expressed attitudes like "I don't care," "Whatever," "Yes" or "No"
  • There were sentimental choices -- "Iloveyou" -- and their opposite -- "Ihateyou"

Robert Graham, of the company Errata Security, which did the analysis and published the conclusions, advises that to better protect against cyber intrusions: "choose a password that is longer than eight characters with one capital letter and one symbol. Advice on choosing a password can be found here.

Accounts

According to a study released by BeyondTrust, which analyzed all new security vulnerabilities published in the 100+ security bulletins Microsoft issued in 2010, simply removing administrative rights from user accounts will mitigate about three fourths of the critical vulnerabilities. Only people who understand the risks of installing software, should be administrators of your computer. All other users of the computer should have restricted accounts.

Software Security

Downloaded Software

If a bad guy can persuade you to run his program on your computer, it is not your computer any more.

It is an unfortunate fact of computers that when a computer program runs, it will do what it is programmed to do, even if it is programmed to be harmful. When you choose to run a program, you are making a decision to turn over control of your computer to it. Once a program is running, it can do anything, up to the limits of what you yourself can do on the computer. It could monitor your keystrokes and send them to a website. It could open every document on the computer, and change the word "will" to "will not" in all of them. It could install a virus. It could create a "back door" that lets someone remotely control your computer. Or it could just reformat your hard drive.

That is why it is important to never run, or even download, a program from an untrusted source and by "source," we mean the person who wrote it, not the person who gave it to you.

There is a nice analogy between running a program and eating a sandwich. If a stranger walked up to you and handed you a sandwich, would you eat it? Probably not. How about if your best friend gave you a sandwich? Maybe you would, maybe you would not it depends on whether she made it or found it lying in the street. Apply the same critical thought to a program that you would to a sandwich, and you will usually be safe.

Security Updates

Please make a habit of installing security updates, for your software, at least monthly.
In particular:

  • Update your operating system. For Windows users, use "Windows Update/Microsoft Update". Please check that it's set to update all Microsoft software, not just Windows. Macintosh users should use "Software Update", which can be found under the apple, in the top left corner of your screen.
  • If you have Java installed, which most of us do, keep it up to date.
  • If you have Adobe Flash Player or Acrobat Reader installed, which most of us also do, keep it up to date.
  • Non-OEM web browsers like Google or Firefox.
  • The "Help" menu of most software allows you to download free security updates, directly from the manufacturer. This is much safer than doing a Google search for it.