Security and Privacy

Malware, viruses, hacks, and anything else that may compromise your identity online, computer, or digital device.

Could a repair shop install monitoring software on my computer?

Wallace from Rancho Palos Verdes, CA

Episode 1325

Wallace took his computer into a repair shop, and now he's concerned that they could have put monitoring software on his computer. This is a legitimate concern, and often times it happens remotely with people calling that claim to be from Microsoft or something. If someone has physical access to the system, though, all bets are off. Taking a computer into a repair shop is an absolute act of trust. There's not much he could do about it, though, if he needed to bring it in. There's no certification process or national organization of computer techs, so he'd just have to trust them.

Can I monitor my employees internet activity?

Walter from Land O'Lakes, FL

Episode 1326

Fred's friend has a company and he wants to monitor his employee's online activity. Leo says that's doable and totally legal. Every employee needs to understand that if he's using company hardware anywhere, the company has the legal right to monitor his activity. It would be a good idea to advise them so they know ahead of time that it can happen. He should establish an appropriate use policy in the office at first. Fred should check out PrivacyRights.org for documents and information.

How can I be secure online during a cruise?

Episode 1326

Jim from Colorado
Tiny Hardware Firewall

Jim is about to go on a river cruise and he's concerned with security when using Wi-Fi on the ship. Leo advises using the Tiny Hardware Firewall. It's a hardware firewall that can protect up to five devices because it uses a built in VPN that protects him. It will slow it down a bit, and the internet is slow on those cruise Wi-Fi hotspots, but it will keep him clean from the last mile.

Why are the graphics on my PC getting large right before it crashes?

Dave from Canyon Lake, CA

Episode 1326

Dave upgraded to a Windows 10 Acer PC and his graphics are too large. Then it crashes, causing him to have to reboot. Leo says that's a common video driver issue. Leo says Dave needs to make sure he has the latest drivers from Acer. What Dave needs to do is figure out which video card he has, whether it's a dedicated video card or an integrated video card. He should look in the Device Manager to see the list of hardware. Then once he has that information, he should go to the Acer website and download the drivers. It could be via video card or machine model number.

Could my external backup drive be infected by a virus?

Keith from Mountain View, CA

Episode 1325

Keith got bit by a computer virus and it corrupted the Master Boot Record. Leo says that's pretty scary because even if he wiped his hard drive and started over, the virus may still be there. Can the virus infect an external USB drive? Leo says no, unless he made it bootable. The irony is, we don't use Master Boot Records anymore -- they're a holdover from a bygone era. He'll want to be sure all his apps are up to date. Browsers, readers, Windows, the works. He can keep his antivirus updated too. Keith should still remember his best defense is his own online behavior.

What's a good antivirus for Windows 7?

David from Burbank, CA

Episode 1324

David is trying to find an antivirus for Windows 7. Leo says that Microsoft's own Security Essentials (or Defender, depending on the version) is sufficient, and it's free. The problem is that viruses are usually coming out so fast (called zero day exploits) that you can get infected before the AntiVirus finds it and removes it. Then the viruses are often attached to a system file and it renders the computer unusable. Even security experts put antivirus low on the list of things to do to prevent infection.

Can I make an image of my computer to wipe out malware?

David from Phoenix, AZ

Episode 1323

David wants to know how malware effects reinstalling apps. Leo says that once he strips off the malware, he'll have to reinstall his apps. The only way to be sure that he's eliminated the malware is to backup his data, wipe his drive and reinstall Windows. How about an image of the drive? As long as he has a clean image, he could use that. If his computer has malware when he makes the image, he'll just restore the malware. Leo would wipe the drive, reinstall everything, update it all, and then make an image.

Imaging options include:

I lost my phone's SD card -- is my data secure?

David from Las Vegas, NV

Episode 1322

David took some pictures on a recent trip and they've disappeared. His SD card is missing. It looks like it fell out. He's worried that his password may be on it or people could gain access to apps. Leo says it would be encrypted if it was his password. The app data will be on there, but it depends on the app if it can read it or not. David's images and music will be in the clear though. But it's on a microsd card. Odds are that no one will find it and if they do, they might see the images. But he's obviously lost them all.