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[ The PC Guide | System Care Guide | Data Loss and Virus Prevention | Data Problem Prevention ]

Childproofing Your Data

Small children are wonderful, but they can also be a menace to your PC. :^) If you use your PC for important work as well as home entertainment, as many of us do, you need to take special precautions to protect your data from both prying eyes, and mischievous fingers. While backups are important in terms of providing you with an extra copy of data in case anything goes wrong with the PC or anything is accidentally deleted, there are other, more proactive tools you can use do to protect your data from your kids--and vice-versa:

  • System Passwords: If a primary goal is preventing access to the system except when you are around to supervise, passwords can be of great assistance. A BIOS password will prevent the system from being booted unless the correct code is entered--but be careful not to lose the password or you will have a problem. This is best combined with a screen-saver password for protection while the PC is on; most screen-saver utilities now let you set a password. By using this combination, you make it impossible for all but the quite technically-inclined to access the PC without your permission. This solution isn't very flexible, however, and it doesn't help you control what is accessed once the PC is unlocked.
  • File Passwords: Many applications will let you encrypt their data files with a password; for example, most word processors allow you to do this. Again, be careful not to lose the password or you will lock yourself out of your own files!
  • File Attributes: You can set the hidden and/or read-only file attributes of sensitive files or directories to make them harder to find and/or delete. This is a simple protective device, that will work in many cases to protect against accidental damage, although I certainly wouldn't consider it "high security".
  • Program Shells or Navigators: Most operating systems have available special programs that are specifically designed to provide a customized environment for kids to use on the PC. When loaded, the program overlays on top of the operating system a special user environment that only allows the user to access programs and data that have been set up and authorized for use (unless they know how to bypass the system). This can in many ways be the best solution, especially for young kids, as these systems not only protect the system, they often provide a much more kid-friendly way for young users to access their educational programs, games and the like.
  • Dedicated Kids' PC: With the price of PCs falling rapidly, it is not very expensive to get a slightly older PC and set it up as a machine for the kids to use. Some people do this when they upgrade; they get a new box and use the older one for the kids. This keeps each of you out of the other's way, quite effectively.

Like in so many other areas of parenting, education is very important as well. Children learn about how computers work very readily and quickly. Teaching your son or daughter about what they can use and what they should not touch, can help avoid problems before they start--at least until he or she is old enough to want to cause problems on purpose. :^) Very young children should always be supervised when using the PC, of course.

Next: Cleaning Up Your Hard Disk

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