Tech Tips: Protecting older computers is no easy task

With new versions of Windows and Mac available, many consumers are trying to decide whether to buy a new computer. The latest computers offer the best protection against viruses and internet threats. However, not everyone will be able to upgrade immediately, so we’ll continue to see older computers in use for some time. Here’s how to protect your older computer from internet threats and how to recognize the signs that you’ll need to upgrade soon.

First, it’s important to know that the older your computer is, the more limited your options are, and that’s mostly because of system updates. Even if your hardware works, old system software is easily overcome by new viruses. And viruses lead to bigger problems, such as stolen accounts, financial fraud and even identity theft. Eventually, all computers reach the point of diminishing returns. It’s not worth the risk to keep using an obsolete computer.

That’s why developers such as Microsoft and Apple follow a software end-of-life cycle. Once software reaches end-of-life, support begins to wane. At first, you’ll still be able to receive security updates and bug fixes. As long as you can do that, your old computer still is in the game. But once those security updates end, you’re running on borrowed time.

If you need to keep using an older computer, you’ll want to protect it as much as possible with the understanding that it’s going to be vulnerable no matter what you do. Let’s start with antivirus software. It’s not always easy to find antivirus apps that will continue to support obsolete systems, but you’ll find a few out there, including Avast and BitDefender.

Watch for fake antivirus software. With few bona fide options available, it’s all too easy to run across a scam. Perform frequent virus and malware scans, and watch for unusual behavior that might indicate an infection.

Your web browser is your window to the internet. If it’s obsolete, viruses can slip right through and onto your computer. Even if you can’t upgrade Internet Explorer or Safari, you can try an alternate browser such as Mozilla Firefox or Opera that still supports older systems.

Consider isolating the older computer on its own network. Many routers allow you to set up a guest network. By keeping the older computer separate, you’ll reduce the risk of it becoming a Typhoid Mary and infecting newer devices on your network.

Remove any software you’re no longer using. Once the system no longer is supported, app updates are unlikely to continue, and buggy apps are another way for viruses to invade. Try to run a minimal system with only the apps you need.

Finally, recognize the limitations of your computer. An older computer simply isn’t going to have the capabilities of a new one. It may be slow to access web pages or download emails. Some sites might not load properly. And it may run out of memory even when you’re only running one or two apps. Once it reaches that point, it’s time to consider a new computer.

• Triona Guidry is a freelance writer and consumer technology specialist offering tech support and advice for home computer users. For free weekly tips and news by email, subscribe to her Simple Tech Tips blog at www.lightningtechsupport.com.