Are your old programs, files threatening computer security?

Is there a bunch of old stuff on your computer?

Not long ago I acquired a full-sized laptop, which immediately became my frontline home computer. My old desktop (emphasis on old) went into a dignified semiretirement as an always-on music server linked up to the stereo. But that’s another story.

Moving my work files from the old desktop to the laptop became a trip down memory lane and revealed what a pack rat I truly am. I have old correspondence, drafts of novels I wrote and forgot, song lists from long-ago bands, and instructions on how to make my Linux system work with various dialup modems. I mean, dialup modems, how antique is that?

Now I know why they make hard drives so big. The one in the old computer is 120 gigabytes, but now you have hard drives measured in terabytes. I’ll bet most of this required space is just for clutter.

Throw it out, they say

As I write this I’m reading a report by TrendLabs on digital clutter, which is probably something I should pay attention to. If TrendLabs needs a poster boy for this, they can email me at and I can hook them up.

I have programs I haven’t used in ages, .iso files to old operating systems I’ve experimented with, notes for projects that (thankfully) died early, and aborted drafts to old blog posts. If you wish to see a profoundly disturbed mind in action, just take a look at my hard drive.

I’ll admit, there are some bragging rights here. That hard drive has seen service in three computers, with multiple operating system changes and more than one total system crash, and I’ve never lost a file. Never. I guess you can say the hard drive is a testament to ingenuity and dumb luck, but maybe a total core meltdown would be the thing that requires me to actually throw something away.

“The best way to get rid of clutter is to throw it out,” TrendLabs advises. This means programs that are no longer used.

Good reason for that, according to Trends: “Unused programs are often left unpatched, retaining vulnerabilities that bad guys can exploit. It’s important to always patch and update programs that you decide to keep. The same applies to your OS.”

Apps on the computer, apps on the smartphone: Where does it end?

Yow. Does this mean if you’re using Internet Explorer 6.0, you’re inviting trouble?

Here’s the thing: Most malware comes in by way of your applications, and your Web browser is a big culprit here. It’s getting so MacIntosh users are being warned about viruses and junk. Shoot, Mac fanboys used to point with pride at how well protected their computers were (and well they should be, considering the premium they’re paying on them). The real vulnerabilities are in the applications. Even Linux users (raises hand) should take notice here. While malware still isn’t an issue with us penguinistas, the Android operating system — which is basically Linux modified for tablets and smartphones — is getting whacked by all sorts of online badness.

Fortunately, outdated programs are not a big problem with me. I’m pretty diligent about keeping everything up to speed, and many of the programs I use are so new they’re still in beta. So new I’m still playing with the bubble wrap. But I still have the installer files and source codes to many of the old, long-since-updated programs kicking around. Maybe those need to go.

And maybe I’ll need to use them again.

Or not.

While I’m not threatening the storage limits of my hard drives, it’s a whole different matter on my Android phone. Somewhere along the line I’ve gone app-happy, and that low-memory warning shows up on my screen a lot.

Part of this is excused. I’m constantly experimenting, and I write reviews for one online client. And sometimes, after testing something out I’ll delete it right away. But not always. I have a chess game I really haven’t used, several e-readers, more than one text editor, three different Web browsers (though one came with the Android and I can’t easily get rid of it), several different online notepads, and two currency converters (I’m still trying to decide which one to delete). Every so often I’ll go through all the programs and decide which ones to remove.

Dancing naked with Nancy Pelosi on Facebook?

While getting rid of the clutter, it’s a good idea to see what you have online. That’s the part that scares me. The nearly-unlimited Google Mail storage means I save a lot of crap there. My Evernote account is limited but I have more than a thousand messages stored away there. And I’m afraid to look at my Gmail contacts list. Just who are these people?

While doing the spring cleaning, it’ll be worth it to go through the social media sites and destroy evidence. I’m talking about those photos that could stand in the way of you getting that job of your dreams.

Fortunately, I’m OK there. There are no Facebook or Google+ pictures of me at any frat parties. No shots of me dancing naked in a bucket of ice with Nancy Pelosi. You can try all you want, but you won’t find them.

And if you do find those pictures, it ain’t me.



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