Using and maintaining your computer

Maintaining your computer

These tips, performed monthly, will help keep your computer secure, safe, clean, and fast. Information in parentheses explains why the tip is useful.


  • (Security) Update Windows. Many virus infections could be prevented if the users kept Windows properly updated. To do this, open Internet Explorer and click on Tools -> Windows Update. Or better yet, set Windows to do this automatically.
  • (Speed) Run a disk cleanup utility. Windows has a simple disk cleaner pre-installed; you can also install CCleaner, which is a great, free, fast cleaning utility. Such cleaning programs will sweep out "temp" files, empty your trash, and so forth.
  • (Speed) Defragment your disk. You can use Windows' preinstalled disk defragment utility, or install Defraggler, which is a great, free, fast defragmenter. This "reorganizes" the way files are stored on your hard drive so they're easier to access, which lets programs start up more quickly.

Mac OSX:

  • (Security) Regularly check for system updates. Mac conveniently funnels most of its system updates through one tool, which you can reach by clicking on the Mac Apple Menu icon.PNG Apple menu -> App Store.


  • (Security) Update your antivirus program and run a full scan. Launch your AV software then look for an option to update it so your computer will obtain all the latest virus definitions, then run a full scan. Sophos Anti-Virus software is available for installation for personal use -- free! -- to students, staff, and faculty.
  • (Speed) Shut down your computer often. Some people prefer to use "Stand-by" because the computer starts up quickly afterwards. While convenient, it can leave your computer sleep-deprived and irritable, causing programs to run slowly. Shut down your computer fully at least a couple times a week.
  • (Long life) Don't move or jostle your computer while it's on. The hard disk is like a mini record player, constantly spinning. When it's jostled, the head can jab into the disk surface causing scratches and bringing your hard disk one step closer to dying or breaking. Turn your computer off or put it to sleep before moving it around.

General safety advice

Help protect yourself, your computer, and our network.

  • Protect your identity and personal information.
    • Change your password often; keep it private.
    • Use secure web sites when providing credit card or bank numbers.
  • Protect your image.
    • Be aware that what you post on a website or Facebook may be searchable and public.
  • Protect your own files.
    • Back up your important files.
    • Use your personal file server folder for your papers, assignments, and research.
  • Protect your computer.
    • Use anti-virus software. (This protects us, too.) You can get Sophos Anti-Virus software FREE for personal use, so there are no excuses.
    • Avoid opening attached files from people or organizations you don't know.
  • Respect the rights of others; don't risk a lawsuit!

Virus and malware street smarts

Viruses are rampant on the internet. Middlebury students, faculty, and staff computers often get infected even when they are being relatively cautious - sometimes, with severe consequences. Here are some tips to minimize the chance that you'll get viruses.

Computer security

  • Ensure that your antivirus software is active and up-to-date. For PCs, the antivirus icon should always be visible in the lower-right side of the screen near the clock. Double-click this icon to open up options to run a scan, update the virus database, and so on. Many antivirus programs will conveniently turn grey if they aren't working correctly.
  • Install all security updates on your computer as soon as your computer asks you to. Better yet, set your computer up to install them automatically.
  • If you think your computer is infected, act immediately. At least run a scan to check for infections. Don't ignore the problem and keep using the computer.
  • Be wary of using public computers and public wireless connections. For example, never make financial transactions using unsecured internet connections or public computers.

E-mail prudence

  • If the SPAM mail you receive contain "Unsubscribe" links, do not click them. Trustworthy companies are required by law to provide such a link in order to allow you to opt out of newsletters and so forth; unscrupulous SPAM senders can trick you into clicking the link, which effectively confirms for them that yours is a valid e-mail address. You'll likely get more SPAM after clicking such a link.
  • Be careful with e-mail attachments. E-mail attachments from someone you don't know, or that are forwarded to you in a chain e-mail, or are unfamiliar file types, should all be treated as suspicious. Even attachments from known senders may not be what they appear; send a separate e-mail (addressing it from your own contact list) and ask if that person sent you a message.
    • If you think an attachment might be important, download it to your Desktop first, then use your antivirus software to scan it for viruses before opening it.
  • Never respond to e-mail that asks for your personal information. No reputable source will ask you for personal information by e-mail.

Infection first-aid

Your Windows computer is infected, you need to use it, and you can't get help right now. Fortunately there are some quick steps that you can take to try to exorcise the virus(es).

Go to the Malware and Virus Support Page for further instructions.

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