With college students already preparing for the fall semester, most will pack up a laptop computer for the trip. Whether that student brings an older family laptop or debuts a shiny new machine this semester, there are several critical steps that any student or parent should take to protect the computer, the data and even family privacy.
RescueCom -- the national computer repair and support company -- has announced a "Campus Computing Checklist" to protect and maintain a campus-bound computer.
"Higher education deserves a higher level of support and service," said David A. Milman, founder and CEO of RescueCom. "Hard-working students who are the future leaders of our country have enough distractions at school. Their computers should not be one of them."
So if your college bound student's laptop has 1,000 downloaded iTunes, special family photos, tax returns or the great American novel -- or you simply want to keep the new laptop safe at school -- take these important steps, or call in an expert now before it's too late.
· Know the rules. Make sure your student has the required software for each class, and the school's rules and requirements for using computers on campus. For example, most campuses won't allow computers without anti-virus software, and they ban file-sharing sites for security reasons.
· Immediately update Windows as soon as a new security patch is available. Don't ignore the pop-up in the bottom right-hand corner of your screen telling you that you need to install the latest security patch. Windows is providing you with a shield to protect you computer.
· Be secure. Make sure the student has a physical lock that denies access to the keyboard (it's a great deterrent for thieves).
· Back it up. Before that eager student leaves for the semester, back up all important files, including work/school documents, pictures and music. External hard drives and off-site daily back-up services are the most common and sensible solutions.
· What's the password? Protect all of your important papers, research or projects with a password. This can be done through Windows XP or other programs. Also, password-protect your computer so that a nosy roommate can't log on and delete your term paper, and make sure never to use any personal identification when creating these passwords (like your Social Security number, birth date or pet's name). Always use an alphanumeric combination, and be sure to change it every month.
· Stay healthy. It's vital to acquire the most up-to-date anti-virus and anti-spyware programs on your computer. Reputable software companies include MacAfee, Trend Micro and Symantec. The programs they provide often have anti-spyware tools built-in. Another great anti-spyware program is Webroot's Spysweeper.
· Bring your own router. Make sure you have you own router with a built-in firewall for added protection. Linksys, 3Com and Netgear offer mobile solutions, and ensure the network is closed and protected. Also, if the laptop is able to connect to the school's network or your router from home wirelessly, it's important to disable your laptop's wireless radio when not in use. This is an added security measure to keep evil doers away.
· Be street smart, not just book smart. Don't open e-mail or files from unknown senders. You don't know Bill Gates personally and he wouldn't mail you directly, so don't open an e-mail that appears to be from him or anyone else with whom you are unfamiliar.
· Buy new. Older computers are less compatible with newer software, and they have a greater potential to freeze, lose data or waste hours of work.
· Invest in a printer. Proofreading is much easier on paper than on-screen. And corrections count: The dean's list could be at stake!
· Bonus tip: (video)phone home. Be sure to pick up a Webcam and a microphone, because programs like Windows Messenger and Skype allow you to turn your college-bound genius' PC into a videophone so you can see them more than once a semester.
All students should also be equipped with a back-up hard drive, and any necessary accessories, like a wireless mouse and keyboard.
For more information, log on to: www.RESCUECOM.com  or call 1-800-RESCUE7.