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Protecting Our Parents' PCs?

Cliff posted more than 10 years ago | from the for-those-family-IT-managers-among-us dept.

Security 778

Frustrated Son asks: "I assume that many Slashdot readers must serve as the IT staff for their parents. My folks get my old machines and just enough software to be productive. I try to protect my parents from the forces of evil by installing automatic OS updates, virus checkers, spyware blockers, pop-up blockers... But still I find that my parents end up with unwanted applications and dangerous software. What software or strategies do you use to protect your parents' PCs? Is it possible for inexperienced users to surf the net in safety?"

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Get mom an iMac (5, Informative)

MoxCamel (20484) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515476)

Get mom an iMac. Install OS X if it doesn't have it already. You can pick up a decent iMac on eBay for around $300, but make sure it's at least 300Mhz. Enable auto-updates. Install Mozilla or Firefox, ensure popup blocking is turned on. Done. You will instantly become the favorite child.

No thanks necessary, it's what I do. :)

(and yes, I know he said PC. I consider this a PC solution.)

Re:Get mom an iMac (3, Insightful)

abandonment (739466) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515500)

either a mac or install mozilla and open office and other alternatives to the standard ms garbage. if you 'train' them to not use microsoft applications, the chances of them becoming victims is significantly reduced...

Re:Get mom an iMac (4, Insightful)

Miguelito (13307) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515553)

Yeah.. after hand cleaning beagle.j off my dad's laptop this weekend, I'm about ready to tell my family "I don't do windows anymore." Would really like to move them all to macs. Since I bought my 17"pb 9 months ago or so, I've just grown to love it. ...and yes, before anyone says anything, I already have them off of all windows mail readers (they use mozilla and my horde/IMP install to read mail, in fact) but my dad opened an attachment from a friend manually, even though my procmail system had defanged the filename so he had to rename it. What're ya gonna do?

Re:Get mom an iMac (1)

Jaysyn (203771) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515555)

Yup, did that past Christmas. Worked like a charm. She loves it & I don't have to mess with it unless I want to.


Re:Get mom an iMac (4, Informative)

fishbonez (177041) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515556)

You don't have to go with an iMac. You can actually use a MS OS provided you remove/disable/hide the MS applications--that is, Internet Explorer, MS Office or Outlook. I gave my parents Opera and Open Office. They are quite happy to use those instead of the virus/worm prone MS applications.

Re:Get mom an iMac (1, Troll)

System.out.println() (755533) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515589)

You still get a lot of virii on windows even without those apps. Plus, you still need IE for some things, like Windows Update and updating some virus scanners.

My friend uses Windows and Firefox, etc, but he had to run IE once - ONCE - to go to windows update. In his words, he got "more viruses than a vietnamese whore."

Re:Get mom an iMac (1)

snarkh (118018) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515642)

How did he get all those viruses from just running IE once to go to the MS update page?

Give me a break.

Re:Get mom an iMac (2, Informative)

System.out.println() (755533) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515674)

Don't ask me... I think he had his homepage set somewhere else, got one virus, and that one let in a flood of others. He had to backup his registry and reinstall windows.

Re:Get mom an iMac (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8515607)

Unless your parents have a habit of using "my computer" or "my documents" as IE by just typing the URL in the address bar.

Gah parents.

Re:Get mom an iMac (0)

simontek2 (523795) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515561)

Did that, i tried to make it anti-MS, but my father hated OSX. so i finally built him a mini-itx machine with win2k. hes happy now.

Re:Get mom an iMac (4, Informative)

jbum (121617) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515575)

I did this a few years ago. I love Macs, but there was a *political* problem with giving Mom an IMac.

My Mom is clueless, and even though I gave her a IMac, she needed tons of help. She would ask everyone she knew for help, not just me. All her kids, sons-in-law, neighbors etc.

Statistically, 90% of these people had PCs and didn't know what to do with a Mac. Even though the Mac was easier to use for a newbie, it's *harder* to use for an experienced PC user. So all these people kept telling her that her computer was "hard to use" and that she should "just get a PC".

Since I didn't want to be her full-time tech-support guy, and constantly have to fight with the in-laws I eventually (after a couple years of this) told her to follow their advice.

Now she has a PC (probably filled with spyware and all kinds of awful stuff) but I don't have to answer the phone, or defend her choice of computer every christmas.

Re:Get mom an iMac (2, Insightful)

Carnildo (712617) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515618)

Get mom an iMac. Install OS X if it doesn't have it already. You can pick up a decent iMac on eBay for around $300, but make sure it's at least 300Mhz. Enable auto-updates. Install Mozilla or Firefox, ensure popup blocking is turned on. Done. You will instantly become the favorite child.

Worked just fine for my grandmother. She'd never used a computer before in her life, so something as easy to use as an iMac was perfect.

As a side note, Safari with popup blocking turned on is as good as Mozilla or Firefox, and you don't need to install it.

Re:Get mom an iMac (2, Interesting)

Pxtl (151020) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515620)

Under windows, the frequent complaint I get from users is the difficulty in installing plugins into FireFox. For example, I some versions often don't come with some of the Macromedia products that are pretty much necessary tools these days. Users consider that pretty much required.

The only other trick is explaining if a site has pop-ups that you actually want, you have to click the little "unblock site" icon.

And thunderbird has its problems. I still don't find it as nice as OE (OE has better IMAP support, I find), and any user can still run attachments under t-bird.

No on Mozilla, stick with Safari (5, Informative)

AHumbleOpinion (546848) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515636)

Install Mozilla or Firefox ...

Stick with Safari, it comes with Mac OS X, it gets updated automatically like the OS, and frankly will get better support when a company blows it and produces a page that doesn't render correctly. Apple is actually somewhat helpful on that last point when the offending site is somewhat important, say online banking, they may contact the offender. I believe Safari has a built in reporting mechanism for bad pages.

I would say Get Better Parents (4, Funny)

mesach (191869) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515671)

I am 31 years old, and I beleive I don't say it enough "I apprecieate my parents"

Dad's a Programmer, Mom's an Admin.

It's where I learned it all the first place, I guess it helps having technically savvy parents.

GIRLFRIENDS on the other hand... I just dont let her on the net except to check email, and then I have vigorous virus checks, She knows "under penalty of loosing the laptop" that she is not to open any attachments, She doesnt have any need to get any from the people that work for her(email is only to send information TO them). But I still get the Weekly, "how do I send this email again?" she is about as technically UNsavvy as I am on the other end of the scale.

OS X (4, Informative)

BWJones (18351) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515479)

What software or strategies do you use to protect your parents' PCs? Is it possible for inexperienced users to surf the net in safety?"

Well, the solution is pretty simple actually. Since OS X [] does not have the virus/worm issues that Windows has, is easy to use and set-up, does not have the malware issues that Windows has, I purchased iBooks [] for my mother and my sister to use. They are cheap, quite effective, durable as can be and since they live many hundreds of miles away from me, I am not always having to do tech support over the phone (or video iChat). Quite frankly, I really don't have the time these days to do computer support so this really is the best solution. Additionally, I would much rather spend the time I have to interact with my family on more fulfilling topics than computer support.

How.... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8515621)

But he's advocating Apple? How has this not been modded Flamebait yet?

One addition... (2, Insightful)

Trillan (597339) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515660)

In addition to this, make sure to not set them up as an administrator.

I'm not saying you shouldn't leave them with administrator access, just make sure that it isn't their day-to-day user account.

Just Say No! (5, Insightful)

mod_critical (699118) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515480)

I run into the same problem at my college which distributes laptops to all students. I have come up with a motto that has made life easier for a great many people...


No matter what it's asking, just click no. I've never run into a time where this can cause a problem. If it comes back a few times, (do you want to go to this encrypted page), read it. Then if you're really sure, click yes.

Re:Just Say No! (1)

dozing (111230) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515650)

No matter what it's asking, just click no. I've never run into a time where this can cause a problem.

My buddy killed his hard disk because he kept telling scan disk not to fix errors it detected. Eventually it went kaput. But I will agree that in most cases its best to encourage them to say no.

Re:Just Say No! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8515700)

Your buddy didn't kill his hard disk by clicking no. Scandisk dosen't fix your hard disk, what it may do is make some data accessable, but once the downward spiral starts, scandisk sin't going to slow it down.

Re:Just Say No! (5, Funny)

wthynot (570397) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515691)

Spammer's note to self: Make great big "No!" button in phony system-error popup.

Its come full circle.. (5, Funny)

Metallic Matty (579124) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515483)

Before they were controlling what I should and I shouldn't watch, now I'm controlling what they should and shouldn't download and install.

Ahh, the life cycle.

Re:Its come full circle.. (3, Funny)

caluml (551744) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515609)

Be nice to your kids - remember, they choose your old-age home.
Ain't payback a bitch?

Re:Its come full circle.. (1)

kfg (145172) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515632)

"Did I tell you not to install Gator?"

"Uh huuuuh."

"Then why did you install it?"

"I don't know."

The fun part is when you get to spank them and send them to bed without dinner.

You know what they say people, be nice to your kids, because someday you're going to have to rely on them being nice to you.


Barely (1)

System.out.println() (755533) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515488)

You can give them "kiddy wheels" like they put on public computers... but then they'll probably be like "Why can't I install this" and you'll have to think of an answer other than "You're too stupid to have that kind of power so I took it away from you."

Re:Barely (1)

TykeClone (668449) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515529)

Just say it's "a technical thing - I'll look into it"


Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8515489)

Now I have to protect their PCs?

Make them a 'guest' (2, Insightful)

GenBradly (528592) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515503)

I start by making their account a 'guest'. If I have to be the IT staff policy #1 is don't install/change anything without asking! Thus 'guest' works well.

Ghost the system (5, Informative)

pvt_medic (715692) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515507)

I just create a ghost of the system with everything installed and every so often just wipe the computer and reinstall things. Takes a little doing to get the parents trained well enough to save files correctly, but it works well, and every 6 months i sit down for a couple hours and reinstall everything. Maybe over doing it but I dont have to do anything in between except change ink cartridges

Re:Ghost the system (1)

System.out.println() (755533) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515550)

That's not solving the problem, though. 1) Bye bye emails, documents.... 2) The poster wanted to *eliminate* the support calls, not make it so he comes over and reinstalls. (These types of parents don't have the knowhow to reformat/reinstall/restore from a ghost.)

Obvius (0, Flamebait)

gcore (748374) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515508)

Well, Linux of course!
Or some other OS that doesnt suck and require you to install shit.

I would install NT4 SP1. (4, Funny)

caluml (551744) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515510)

If my Mum ever wanted a computer, I'd set her up with NT4 (SP1), IIS running, no virus scanner or firewall, and her logged in as Administrator.
I've mentioned Linux, and how nice it is, and once she became frustrated with Windows, I'm sure she'd agree :)

Re:I would install NT4 SP1. (1)

dozing (111230) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515695)

...once she became frustrated with Windows, I'm sure she'd agree

Man, that's just plain evil. If you'd do that to family I'd hate to imagine what your capable of. Though I must admit its tempting to do that to my boss...

106 males per 100 females (-1, Offtopic)

Thinkit4 (745166) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515513)

That's right, 106 males for every 100 females. So it's those 6 extra males who are stuck living with mom and dad. If you're an old enough male, just hope for the draft to return! Mass die-off of young men==heaven.

I Got Them Firefox (1)

CeleronXL (726844) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515516)

I got my parents, particularly my dad, Firefox. My dad was always plauged with spyware and such things when he browsed with Internet Exploiter. Now he uses Firefox which doesn't allow all of that crap to automatically install itself. Also because he's using Firefox, system updates aren't always as urgent as they would be if he actually used IE.

Safer PC (1, Insightful)

kwiqsilver (585008) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515517)

My parents have a Gentoo Linux [] box, and only I have the root password.

Dude.... (2, Funny)

Chris_Stankowitz (612232) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515542)

My parents have a Gentoo Linux box, and only I have the root password.

Stop Lying!

I'm a gentoo zealot and I have to say, YOU SIR HAVE GONE TO FAR!

Re:Dude.... (1)

frodo from middle ea (602941) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515635)

Actually I think, gentoo should be the most easiest linux system to administer over the network.

Think of it, just ssh to your parent's box, and emerge -uD world.

Of course, you don't need to compile all s/ws. Install from stage 3 and use GRP , for pre built binaries.

Re:Safer PC (1)

GirTheRobot (689378) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515610)

i am planning to do the same with debian and my MIL's computer (Pentium compiling for me)

Re:Safer PC (2)

zoloto (586738) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515647)

For a while I gave my mom MDK 9.2 (now upgraded to 10) to get used to linux . Then I installed it dualboot. She never touched windows in the 3 months' she's used (linux) it. Sure I've had to add openoffice, mozilla too... but she's never had a problem either.

and only I have the root password: a 56 character password with uppercase, lowercase, numbers and special characters all encrypted with my gpg key.

my mom can get at it, but i've told her I can do everything remotely and she really doesn't care otherwise. no problems, no fuss... no phonecalls at 3am PST when her computer at work or home is on the fritz (she's EST)

fun fun

Re:Safer PC (1)

caluml (551744) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515667)

That is the way I would do it, seriously. If they needed anything else installing, a quick SSH in and emerge would sort them out. And in an emergency, they could always be talked though linux init=/bin/bash, followed by mount / -oremount,rw

The biggest rule (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8515521)

No Internet Explorer/Outlook. Do not let them use it under any circumstances. That's where the vast majority of problems from the internet come from. Get them Mozilla, or Firefox/Thunderbird, or Opera, or anything other Internet Explorer and Outlook.

VNC (4, Informative)

after (669640) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515522)

I use VNC to do check ups on my fathers computer a few times a day. This is real usedull because you can check the computer as if you were sitting in front of it in a very short ammount of time; You dont have to stand up and phisicaly be at the computer.

I also installed Mozilla on his computer so that he does not install anything he really neads.

Re:VNC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8515659)

I use VNC to do check ups on my fathers computer a few times a day.

Wow, now that's committement. Is your father surfing porn and clicking Yes constantly?

... is real usedull because ...
... very short ammount of time ...
... and phisicaly be ...

... so that he does not install anything he really neads.

Doesn't install anything he needs? Like a spell-checker? How does Firefox stop him from installing things he needs, specifically?

Firefox! (3, Insightful)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515524)

Remove that blue "e" from the Programs menu, and teach them to click on the little red fox circling the globe. That'll prevent a lot of this from happening...

Re:Firefox! (3, Insightful)

getha (97821) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515643)

Even better, just replace FireFox's icon with IE's... They'll just think IE changed its look and feel and thank Microsoft for making their life better.

It's what I did...

Re:Firefox! (1)

Matrix2110 (190829) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515649)

I love Firefox, I would love to use it. However it is 0.8! crashes right and left on my W2k box.

Fastest browser I have ever seen.

Had to downgrade to Mozillia.

I can't believe it ! I'm the first ! :D (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8515525)

Seriously, install a distro with a minimalist desktop and a browser+email client. No virus, no adware, you know.


Siblings (5, Funny)

_Sharp'r_ (649297) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515526)

How to deal with tech support requests from parents?

That's what my two younger brothers are for! I just had to teach them enough so that I could send my parents to them.

Well for one thing (0)

Vacuous (652107) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515528)

If the spyware removal software you use is adaware (Which I am assuming due to the link in the article) then you getting a scanner rather than a blocker, I don't think even the paid version of adaware has real time scanning. Correct me if I am wrong

No. (3, Funny)

domodude (613072) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515531)

No. Plain and simple, no. I once tried to fixed a computer for a friend. He "clicked" on the AOL icon, and claimed his computer was broken. And by clicked, I mean that he picked up the mouse and "clicked" it against the monitor. I was unable to help him due to the excessive laughter I was experiencing and still do when I think of that day.

Duh (1)

Matrix2110 (190829) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515532)

"Is it possible for inexperienced users to surf the net in safety?"

Yes, it is and it is free as well, AVG, ZA, Folding are great examples of how to protect your computer now and your life in the future. And your family as well.

Re:Duh (1)

Matrix2110 (190829) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515572)

And your Little Dog too!

Re:Duh (4, Insightful)

macdaddy357 (582412) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515699)

"Is it possible for inexperienced users to surf the net in safety?" No! Giving computers to the technically illiterate is like giving firearms to children. Computers were supposed to be tools only for the techno-elite. The good thing about viruses, spyware, pop-ups and spam is that they will eventually cause millions to swear off computers, and again they will be tools for the techno-elite.

Education (2, Insightful)

pestie (141370) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515533)

My mom's pretty clever, and she listens to what I tell her when I talk about computers. So, in addition to using AdAware, AVG Anti-Virus, Zone Alarm and Mozilla (web and mail), she knows enough to install all the WinXP updates ASAP and never, ever believe anything that arrives in her inbox. Thank god my father rarely touches that machine... Oh, and I have VNC installed there, too, for when I need to do some remote administration from 1100 miles away.

VNC (4, Insightful)

Deimios (317819) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515535)

Install VNC or remote desktop, saves tons of money on gas for trips to their house to fix it everytime they bollocks it up with spyware or other garbage like that. Also, install AdAware and set it up to automatically scan.

Another trick that I find useful in XP is to set them up as a limited user, and encourage them to use it for day-to-day stuff (like in *nix), give them the password for the administrator account, but make sure you stress that it should only be used to install software.

first things first.. (3, Insightful)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515536)

..educate them, just a little bit.

just little things, like DON'T use ie on pron sites. don't install little helper applications they didn't spesifically went on to look for(bonzi buddies&etc - just not using ie puts this down pretty well though).

then lock down the computer from any outside access(firewall) but please, don't make it so that the firewall gets in the way since they will figure out how to disable it if it is very annoying(the whole point of why it was there was to remove annoyances, so if it is set to so aggressive that it really becomes an annoyance with a person who doesn't even understand the "allow connection blabla" dialogs it isn't fulfilling it's purpose).

though, these tips are quite obvious. just get it around into their heads that it is good for _them_ to use something else than ie for almost anything if they don't wish to get popups in the middle of doing some spreadsheets.

Swap parents! (5, Insightful)

hondo (77902) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515537)

I actually swapped tech support with a buddy of mine. Its so frustrating trying to tech support your own parental unit machines. So, I tech support his parents, and he tech supports my parents. This has helped a lot in terms of stress and getting annoyed at the "stoopid" questions.

They're users... fix their account type! (4, Insightful)

CTho9305 (264265) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515538)

It's not often that users like that legitimately need to install software. Change their account type from "Administrator" or "Power User" to just "User", and they'll be much safer. For when they DO need to legitimately install something, you could let them have the administrator password.

Re:They're users... fix their account type! (2)

Dante (3418) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515692)

This is the best advice I could give.

Create a plain user account, tell them if they want to install anything
to call you and stick to your guns. I would not give my mom root. why
give your parents administrator?

The solution in one word (-1)

(1337) God (653941) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515539)


Yes, Linux.

Real Player isn't so bad. (2)

Chalex (71702) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515544)

It's installing it that's difficult! If you install Real yourself, you can be sure that it won't hijack all the file-type associations. You can also set its preferences appropriately, turning off all the "reminders" and "auto-updates", etc.

If you don't install it, the first time your parents want to see a Real stream, they'll install it themselves, and have it do all that nasty stuff.

Moral: install everything your parents might ever need and configure it properly. That's what Linux distros do!

"Put your parents, where your mouth is" (1)

mi (197448) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515545)

Install a decent OS for them -- FreeBSD or Linux will fit. MacOS is Ok too, I suppose, but that may not be your hardware.

There is a learning curve with this OSes, but it is not -- as I'm finding out with my own parents, and my (gasp!) significant other's grandparents -- any steeper than with Windows. Really... E-mail is e-mail and web-browsing is web-browsing. The added bonus is, I can get in from afar and fix whatever issue surfaces or add whatever program they want.

Family = free, friends = beer (1)

msim (220489) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515547)

Sure i'll help mum, dad and the girlfriend with their PC problems. I even used to help friends, but now-a-days it costs my mates beer for me to fix pc problems, either that or i tell them to get lost and fix it themselves.

I like the idea of giving them a mac, but my mum is reasonably fluent in speaking windows, im not sure if i'd confuse her if i gave her a mac to use however.

Hours of my life wasted. (4, Informative)

Sick Boy (5293) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515551)

I spend hours locking down the box, turning off their permissions, setting up virus and spyware scanners with automatic updates and run-times and admonished them to run Firefox. Took a long time.

They still got infected. I still got calls. LOTS of calls. "Slow!" "Hijacked homepage!" "radioactive monkeys!" etc.

Then I got them a used G4. Works a charm. They're happy, I'm happy, the web is safer for them and from them.

Install Firebird (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8515552)

It seems the major source of unwanted junk on my charges' PCs is IE.

Firebird, in addition to all the other stuff already mentioned in the OP's text, really helps limit the unwanted crap.

Diagnosis Tools (2, Interesting)

Earl The Squirrel (463078) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515560)

While this might not stop the problem, it is useful to load VNC [] . up on their box so you can remotely clean up things. In a lot of cases parents and children don't live in the same town, so no only do you have this problem, but you may not get to the machine for a while. Assuming they have a reasonable network connection, this can be a lifesaver. And prevents you from getting frustrated while you try to explain to them "....move the mouse to the toolbar"

One simple approach (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8515564)

I make an lmhosts entry for things like gator
as That way, the parents can't
surf to the malware site anyway. I have a
fairly comprehensive list of sites. It might
not always be uptodate, but it blocks the random
gator install.

Yea, yea, yea. I'm restricting the rights of
the end user. Who cares. My parents have no
interest in visiting gator anyway.

Migrate them to Linux. (1)

Noof (22378) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515568)

I got my parents using Linux. I have had to give them some training, but mostly it has just worked.

I can remotely admin their machine via the console, and I know it a lot better than Windows, so when they have problems, I can help them out.

Migrate them to BSD!!! (1)

neildiamond (610251) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515665)

Oh yeah! That's the solution. Dad, just run Turbotax, Autocad and Quicken with WINE. It's really easy. Ahh forget Linux. Real Men (or whatever) use BSD. That's what my parents use! (Would I lie?) It's great for USB scanners.

Win 2k/XP (2, Interesting)

blystovski (525004) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515573)

I would highly suggest Windows 2K/XP, auto updates and all the goodies you suggest, and a good remote desktop package such as TightVNC. Then make sure to keep the administrator password under lock and key, and give them restricted user accounts.

This way they have the ability to use the machine and the installed software, but are not allowed (or rather - simply can't) install any additional software. I thought about doing this with my parent's PC, but realized my sisters would flip out when they realized they wouldn't be able to download the latest file sharing programs. So - if there is any way you can get them to live with such a PC, I would highly suggest it.

Oh - and don't forget to teach them how to keep important data safe (maybe even set up one of those nifty new external backup hard drive devices with backup software), so that if things do go south you can just come over and reload things without any worries of lost data. Just some ideas...

I Use a Non Internet Explorer for their surfing... (2, Informative)

Praedon (707326) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515574)

I installed Mozilla Firebird on my parents computer which is also used by my sister.. Installed all the plugin's they could ever use, and so far, the only way unwanted programs pop up on their machine, is when my sister jumps on to internet explorer cause she gets some errors on sites that say "Internet explorer only!!!" Which is bull, cause I know Mozilla will support what they want, but due to crappy scripting on their javascript, it searches for browser names, not capability... So in conclusion, I would suggest using....

Mozilla Firebird for Browsing
Delete ALL Traces of Internet Explorer Icons
Use Lavasoft Ad-Aware Personal Edition
Use ZoneAlarm Personal Edition
Invest a small bit of money into Norton Antivirus
And above all.. Lock all active x stuff from emails if you still have them using Outlook from M$...

fr0mat (1)

Kent Simon (760127) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515578)

Nothing gets rid of spyware better than a good old fashion formatting. Since your parents aren't really doing anything useful on their computer (I mean lets face it, what good is a pc, other than for gaming :-p), just make an image of their harddrive after you get it tweaked. And make a ghost every month or so. Its more effective than adaware, and much more fun than defragging. Kent

Caution notices (2, Funny)

madprof (4723) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515579)

My father has never used the Internet before and has just started browsing EBay for antique glass. I've printed out, in 48-point lettering, "EBay will never ask you for your password by email" and pinned it to the wall next to the PC.
I'm thinking of replicating this for other tricks that some people try to pull.

it wont do any good... (1)

bani (467531) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515629)

he'll just happily type in his CREDIT CARD number to any email that asks for it.

or his social security number, bank account info, etc.

-1 Troll (4, Funny)

Johnny Mnemonic (176043) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515582)

Rule of thumb: I'll support you for free if you buy a Mac. If you buy a PC, you use the Yellow Pages. Problem solved.

Mozilla, Adaware, and VNC (1)

schon (31600) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515585)

I just got my mother a laptop for her birthday. Set up a restricted account for her, and install mozilla, adaware, and (so that I can remotely administer it) VNC.

She's more than happy with it. It does what she wants, and she can't break it. If she needs it to do more (which I doubt she ever will), I can VNC in to install whatever she needs.

Education (1)

krital (4789) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515594)

... is the only way to save people from these things. If you give them a tutorial instead of simply installing things on their computer (for example, you don't have to click 'yes' when a website wants to install something, and you should never open email attachments that you're not expecting -- that sort of thing), you'll equip them with something much more powerful than a firewall or a virus scanner. This obviously holds for people other than your parents. Try to keep them informed -- I realize that most people don't really want to know too many things about using computers, but you should explain to them that using the internet's similar to driving in that if you don't know safety rules, you could end up seriously hurt.

Sure you can (4, Informative)

Limburgher (523006) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515599)

I have a small checklist I go through at each visit to my parents and my in-laws.

This includes updating virus protection(AYG, so they don't have to worry about keeping it paid), running windows update, a full defrag, and I make sure their and mozilla are up to date.

Hakkuna friggin' Matata. :)

Dealing with this now (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8515605)

A couple of years ago I gave my Dad his first compy. It was an old one of mine. He got online, and enjoys it. The problem is, the beast is running Win2K and he is not experienced online. Nothing is realy seen as a threat, so his mailbox is full of spam and the like all the time. Compy slows down from spyware, and I have to rebuild it.

Lately, he has been using a linux box at my house when he visits and seems comfy enough with it. That is what I am building for him now. He will get an old compy from me with Fedora installed. I will include apt and run it from a cron-job, enable ssh from my IP for those help requests, and he can surf safely and play with his digital photos. That is the plan here, if your parents are older and you cannot buy them a Mac, hook them up with an older PC running an easy linux distro and set them free.


adamshelley (441935) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515606)

Make sure you install Firefox instead of IE.

In my experience this will elimintate a lot of garbage that gets built up on windows installations.

Thanks to google bombing it takes less that 5 minutes of surfing the web to get spyware installed on your computer when using IE.

Install firefox and configure the blocking capabilities.

Some may argue that some pages won't work but to remedy this you can install the "view page in ie" plugin so they only enter "the forbidden app zone" when necessary.

What i do (4, Informative)

Paddyish (612430) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515608)

Obviously, the automatic updating is a must. I also gave them the google toolbar with popup blocking (they've been unable to effectively learn Mozilla), and I use Spybot's Seek and Destroy software to protect against the more common malicious adware (immunize option). As a last-ditch failsafe, I can VNC into the PC with their permission and attempt to fix it that way.

My mother has actually started taking a few basic computer classes, which have yielded an improvement in her basic usage skills.

You can't miss what you ain't never had. (2, Interesting)

Lost Technology (732474) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515615)

My solution was to install Mozilla, set it as the default browser, lock the rest of the box down, etc. and then just lie lie lie when asked why funnyjoke.exe that they got in their email isn't working.

"Sorry, mom, sometimes stuff just isn't compatible with blah blah blah."

"Oh, that webpage isn't working? Yeah, it's probably a problem with their server. Stuff on the Internet isn't always reliable."

Sure, they miss out on a lot of "content," but nothing they can't live without.

Do I feel bad about lying? Yeah, kinda, but it's better than making them feel stupid for Window's design flaws.

Perhaps eventually they'll move on to something better and gain the expertise to avoid these perils themselves, but I'm not going to cram lectures and lessons down their throats. I'm patient enough to let them learn on their own pace.

And like I said, they're really not missing out on anything important so far.

How I fixed my father's PC woes (4, Interesting)

El Cubano (631386) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515617)

What software or strategies do you use to protect your parents' PCs? Is it possible for inexperienced users to surf the net in safety?

I demoed him my laptop (with Debian). He liked it, so I got rid of WinME that had become riddled with spyware and installed (this was about a year ago) Woody, a GNOME2 backport, a 2.4 kernel, Firebird, Thunderbird, OOo, and Shoreline firewall with rules to deny all incoming connections expect for SSH from my personal machine's MAC address. Never had another problem. In fact, his job issued him a laptop (Compaq w/ XP) that he hardly uses because he finds Debian so much easier. To keep him up to date, I log in remotely and do the apt-get upgrade for the security updates.

I also did something similar for my brother with an old Dell P-II laptop he had with Windows 2000 that kept getting viruses and spyware. Only, since my brother is on the road alot, I taught him how to do the security updates himself.

The number of support calls I get from my family has dropped from one a week to almost none.

assistance granted *nods* (1)

Zoko Siman (585929) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515623)

If you must stick with windows, make them a normal user account for them to use regularly.Then make yourself an administrator account (as if you hadn't already). Then, turn on remote desktop and install programs via teh innerweb for them.

If that fails, or you don't feel like doing it that way, get 'em an iLamp [] . I worked in a school that was all OS 10 and each day I'd see more and more teachers getting these babies. If you don't trust your parents with the gooey LCD of none-touchy-ness get them an eMac. It's like a 17" microwave with an OS. (Ever heard an eMac?) A 3 peice machine with "Rock hard unix."

And this just turned into a porn commercial. I'm leaving!

Email attachments... (1)

idfrsr (560314) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515628)

For me, I watched mom run an exe attachment right in front me... because 'so and so' sent it... Just like all those other users that face the internet every day.

Solve that problem...and profit!

No big deal - you are doing all you can (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8515631)

You're doing everything right. Add ad-aware to the list. Make sure anti-virus is up to date and stop worrying about the rest. My dad got real on his machine. No big loss. I would never go near it, personally. Your parents will never run as tight a ship as you would want for yourself. Explain the risks, do what you can, and let the rest happen as it will.

Windows is fine (4, Insightful)

Patik (584959) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515651) long as they use Firefox [] and Thunderbird [] . My mom used to get crap all over her PC. Finally I installed FF and TB and made them the defaults for everything. She hasn't had a single problem since. Norton and Windows update themselves.

She doesn't have to learn Linux, no one has to spend $$$ on a Mac, and she can still watch those stupid WMV video clips her friends send her links to.

Chances are your parents already have a Windows PC, just keep it and install the right free apps and you'll be all set.

Some ideas (1)

dhoonlee (758528) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515652)

There have been many suggestions for buying a Mac/using OSX, but if buying a new computer is not an option, here are some ideas.

Set up accounts that restrict administrator style access for use by your parents.

Disable ActiveX and java on their browsers.

Force them to use web-based e-mail accounts only. (this atleast has the potential to avoid vulnerabilities inherent to MS outlook, etc)

Last but not least, keep a ghost image of the last time you reinstalled windows handy.

Personally, I've given up on all of the above (except for maybe the last) and decided to let my parents make mistakes. After all, that is the way I learned what to do and not to do regarding dangerous software/spyware etc. Sure I could strip all the functions away from the computer to make it safe but then what use is it to my parents...

Linux is an obvious alternative but my parents need to use software that only runs on windows.

Protect your parents... (1)

Paladin144 (676391) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515656)

By not giving them access to anything. Password protect everything that the OS allows you to.

So you want to surf the web, dad? WELL TOO BAD!! I'm in charge now! Mohahahahaaaa!!! Who's the boss now?! Huh?! Huh?!!!!


Oh, uh, sorry.
Man, I've gotta get outa my parents' basement more....

iBook (4, Interesting)

mj_1903 (570130) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515657)

I simply bought my parents an iBook and visit it every 6 months to make sure their software is up to date (aka Mac OS X 10.3, updates to Safari, etc.)

They have yet to have any major problems with it and my mom is astounded that she is achieving things with her computer that she never thought she could, like organizing her photos and e-mailing them off to friends.

Not a problem (0)

rgmoore (133276) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515662)

I'm very glad not to have this kind of problem. My Dad has been using computers since the days of punch cards, and he was the one who introduced me to Linux. The tech support questions I tend to get from him are things like "Which distribution are you using these days?" Naturally, he's more than capable of taking care of my Mom's tech support issues.

Mozilla (1)

mrsam (12205) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515668)

I protect my folks' PCs by shepherding them to use Mozilla to browse the web and read mail. The strategy has been quite succesful. In the last 5-6 years I never had to fumigate their PCs from any viruses, trojans, etc...

How frickin' appropriate... (1)

Eberlin (570874) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515670)

So I got called in to "fix" a machine from the parental units. Some spyware/adware got into a fight with the AVG scanner causing it the screen to go black soon after bootup. How the hell it got through in the first place, I don't know, but the solution was boot from CD, run the virus scanner, delete the offending files, reboot.

Installed spybot S&D afterwards and sure enough, spyware all over the place. Went home thinking "my linux box doesn't EVER have this problem."

But see, my dad does my taxes and it's best not to offend. Plus as far as I know, Turbotax runs on Windows and not the penguin. You can educate all you want, install and run all the preventive measures you want, but in the end, it's the end-user that can royally bork a system.

You want protection? Take them out of any network. Want absolute protection? Grind the PC to bits. If you want a compromise, you'll have to deal with preventive maintenance...and you'll find out your mom or dad will STILL run unexpected file attachments.

Partial answer: (1)

Kelz (611260) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515673)

On my mom's PC, I always make sure that she has Firefox or some other browser without ActiveX (where most spyware and the such comes from), install flash, shockwave, and java plugins, and keep a good virus scan going at all times (I use PC-Cillin [] but norton works well also).

The best way to have good security on your parents' computers is to educate them (whos the parent now?!) on e-mail attachments and what to do in case of a popup. My mom freaked out when she got her first "natural male enhancement" spam but it showed her why not to enter your e-mail whenever it says "enter your e-mail" on a web site.

Dansguardian (1)

dameron (307970) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515676)

I'd have them run Dansguardian/Squid with no content filtering but very restrictive file type blocking. If they need content filtering you could tune it for them at some additional time investment.

I'm sure there's a way to do this without Dans and using only squid so it could run on MS systems as I don't think Dans is available for Windows. Anyway, Dans makes it so easy it's what I'd recommend.

Also you get the lower virus profile with something like Lycoris, and you could cron up all the autoupdating.

I'd also a VNC server service on their box so you can help them out easily and even show them how things are done. There are other ways to do this too, but I live VNC best as it's easy to setup on almost any platform.


Benign neglect. (1)

shystershep (643874) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515677)

Well, considering that Pops got an associate degree in computer science back in the mid-80s, I don't worry too much about him (currently running Xandros). My mom, however, is another story. My dad doesn't have the patience to help her (& vice versa). That leaves me, even though I live on the opposite side of the state (about a 5 hour drive). Whenever I'm over there for holidays or whatnot, I do a full check of her system (running MS 98, Spybot S&D, AVG Anti-virus) and apply any updates. She knows enough not to open attachments, so she does pretty well. That, and I recently (over Christmas) talked her into Thunderbird (the spam blocker == major selling point) and basically just swapped Firebird for Explorer (erased the Explorer icons, imported her bookmarks into Firebird).

Email and eBay are about all she uses the computer for, so it works pretty well. When I'm confident in a distro's compatibility with her digital camera and find a simple photo editor, I figure I'll just make her a Linux user. As long as she can still do what she wants, she won't care.

teach them.... (1)

caino59 (313096) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515681)

teach them how to use the programs on there....and why you need it, what it does, etc.

i have my mom using firefox, spybot s&d and adaware

she runs all the updates and uses the spyware removers....she hasn't yet had a virus.

i tought her what to look for in emails and whatnot.

then she tought my dad. phone calls from them with computer troubles are few and far between.

time spent educating them is time well spent. you have the knowledge, so you may as well share it.

Tools and Penguins (1)

monster811 (752356) | more than 10 years ago | (#8515688)

Install Firefox, Thunderbird, Kazaalite, Trillian and teach them to use those instead of their old spyware-loading programs.

Make sure you add stuff like the adblock plugin to firefox, make sure popup blocking is enabled, and set some general filters like */ads/*, */banners/*, **, etc.

Set a policy that you wont help them if they dont use the alternative programs and run Ad-Aware ~once/week.

If all else fails, set them up with linux. In most cases, parents dont want to do anything other than check their email, browse the web, and use basic office apps. Don't give them too many features they arent used to or havent used (possibly through gator-style apps) on windows. I have had my dad running on RedHat 9 and (more recently) Mandrake 9.2 since he finally upgraded from his Celeron 366/Win98 box.

BTW, is it just me, or does the "dangerous software" link in the original read like gator paid them to soften their criticism?

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