Technology has a dark side, or maybe even a few, and Robin Kessler of R & D Internet Associates is an expert on how to protect yourself or your business against potential dangers.

For someone whose entire business resides on a personal computer, this danger is sudden data loss if a computer goes off kilter or is infested with a virus. For people who socialize on Facebook or buy and sell on Craig’s List, the potential problem is unscrupulous people on the other end.

Kessler will offer a program on “What is the Best Way to Keep Your Data Safe?” twice at the South Brunswick Public Library, Thursday, August 23, 12:30 to 2:30 p.m., and Monday, August 27, 7 to 9 p.m., in Meeting Room A and B. She will also give a preview of Windows 8. Registration is recommended, but walk-ins are welcome. For more information contact 732-329-4000x 7286 or southbrunswicklibrary@gmail.com.

Kessler’s focus is on PCs, and she has a few tips for keeping your data and yourself safe:

Back up your files. Kessler recommends the inexpensive Second Copy backup program, which backs up files to an external device. This device can be a USB flash drive or an external hard drive, depending on how much you have in your My Documents folder. After the initial backup, it saves any new changes you make. “I like it because it is easy to use,” says Kessler.

Another way to go is to save files on the Web — in the cloud. Kessler mentions Carbonite, which backs up files while you work and makes it easy to select and restore any saved files. “You install it, set it up, and forget about it,” says Kessler. “If your computer dies and you’re on the Internet, you can restore back your files, and when you are traveling, you can take a file out if you need it.”

But despite these pluses, there is a big minus to all Web applications. “You don’t get your files if the Internet is out,” she says. Prices vary with the number of people who will be using the service.

Kessler recommends using an external device that can be removed from your computer. “I believe that you need more than just an online service,” she says. “You need something you can take away from your computer and put in a safe place.” The reason to keep the external drive separate is simple: computers may be shorted out by a passing thunderstorm, by dust, or by passing too close to a magnet, and if this happens, any attached external drive may also be damaged.

Decide what back-up device you should buy. The main idea here is not to buy more backup than you need. Before putting serious money into an external device, Kessler suggests you check how much storage you are using on your computer. Go to the bottom, left-hand corner of your computer and click on either Explore for XP or Windows Explorer for Windows 7 and Vista. Then scroll down to the My Documents folder, highlight it, and right click. Then you will need to left click on properties, where you will see how many megabytes or gigabytes are being used by My Documents. Note that in XP photos and music are also grouped here, whereas in Vista and Windows 7, they are in separate files, whose size must be added in.

Because most people have more pictures than files, suggests Kessler, your plans for adding pictures in the future are important in determining the size of the external device you will need. If you have determined that currently your documents, pictures, and music occupy 4 gigabytes, and you plan to add a lot more pictures, you should get a 16-gigabyte flash drive; at about 8 gigabytes, you should buy a 32-gigabyte flash drive, which is still a lot cheaper than an external hard drive. If you currently are storing significantly more than 8 gigabytes, however, you will have to buy an external drive, the smallest of which are 500 gigabytes.

Don’t open attachments indiscriminately. “Don’t open E-mails that have attachments unless you are sure who the attachments came from,” says Kessler. For example, Microsoft will never send you an E-mail; if you get an E-mail from Microsoft that tells you to open the file they are sending you, do not open it.

Use free antivirus programs. Kessler says the free programs do just as good a job as the ones you pay for. She suggests MS Security Essentials for Vista and Windows 7 and avast! for XP.

Never post vacation plans on Facebook. Sometimes technology problems are not due to hardware, but to the social networking and other sites you use. When using Facebook, for example, you need to set it up from the beginning so that only your friends are able to see your posts, not the whole world.

And save those vacation photos for posting when you return home; broadcasting that you will be away is a sure-fire way to encourage someone to rob your unprotected house. Also, you should never accept as a friend someone you don’t know. If someone suspicious friends you, ask them how they know you, and don’t be satisfied unless they can provide detailed first and last names of any mutual connections.

Stay away from ads. Kessler says that when people accidentally click ads, they are taken through a website that sets spyware on their computers before going to the ad itself.

Take care when using Craig’s List. Craig’s List brings buyers and sellers together, usually with mutually satisfying results, but since you are dealing with strangers, you have to be careful.

“If you’re the seller, never put in your real E-mail address; Craig’s List gives you an opportunity to set up a dummy E-mail,” says Kessler. If you’re selling a small item, she suggests you meet the buyer in a public place.

If the item is large and a buyer needs to come to your house, make sure someone else is with you and that no valuables are visible.

Similarly, if you are a buyer, bring someone with you if you need to go to a stranger’s house; also, leave your pocketbook or wallet hidden in your car, bringing in only what you need to pay the person. If you are a seller, only accept cash.

Kessler is from Brooklyn, New York. Her father was an accountant and her mother a manicurist. She studied accounting for two years at Baruch College but left after marrying because the couple only had enough money for one of them to finish school.

When her two children, now married, were young, she stayed at home with them, but after they were in school full time, she worked part-time doing bookkeeping and as an administrative assistant.

Kessler gained her expertise in computers in a unique way. After being in a serious car accident and developing a blood clot, she had to stay in bed for a long time with her leg up. All she had to keep her mind active was her laptop, and she spent her time browsing the Internet, which led to some interesting results.

“From playing on the Internet, I got involved with a bunch of kids who taught me everything I know,” she says. Describing the children she got involved with through a chat network as “brilliant,” she says she began to serve as their mother hen, keeping them in line, and they in turn taught her about computers.

Her husband started R & D Internet Associates in 2006. “We are a service company,” she says. “We fix computers, teach them, and help our clients purchase computers.” Kessler does what she can to help, primarily doing seminars all over New Jersey. Her husband handles the technological details.

Don’t let technology’s dark side scare you away from the manifold opportunities it presents. It just takes a little care to keep your data and your computer interactions safe. Take the steps you need, and then do your work and have fun, free of worry.

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