A compromised email account doesn’t mean your other accounts have been compromised. But I would assume the worst and take immediate action.

The person who hacked your account is probably in Nigeria. That’s where most scams like this originate. So, you have to wonder how the hacker got your log-in information.

The hacker doesn’t know you. So, he probably didn’t guess your password. For the same reason, your password probably wasn’t reset.

You could have been tricked by a phishing email. Or, in a worst-case scenario, you have a keylogger on your machine. Keyloggers record your keystrokes. Some even take screen shots.

A keylogger wouldn’t limit itself to email passwords. It would record everything you do on the machine. It could capture credit card numbers, banking passwords and other log-in information.

Get to work fast. Start by securing your machine. You need one firewall and one antivirus program. You also need at least two anti-spyware programs. Get all of this for free from my site.

Once you have the software installed, update it. You need to have the latest malware definitions. Then, run the programs one by one. They should detect and remove malware on your machine. I wouldn’t be surprised if you find a keylogger.

You should also run Windows Update. This installs security patches for Windows and other Microsoft software. Keeping software updated is just as important as running security software.

Flaws in other software can also open your machine to hackers. So run Secunia’s Software Inspector. It will check for updates for other installed programs.

My tip covers everything you need to know about Software Inspector.

Securing your computer is only the beginning. Now you need to protect all of your online accounts.

You should change your password at every site you’ve visited on that machine. I recommend making a list of the sites you use. Go through your bookmarks and Web history, if need be. This will help you cover all bases.

When you create new passwords, make sure they’re strong. What’s a strong password? My tip explains all. You’ll probably also want a password manager. It will help you remember all of your passwords.

I recommend the free KeePass program. You can download it from my site. But first, make sure you know how to use it. My tip provides step-by-step instructions.

There is a chance that you could fall victim to identity theft. So, you need to take some steps to protect yourself. I recently wrote a handy column on protecting your identity. Read it and follow the steps. You’ll be glad you did.

Now, all of this assumes that a keylogger is on your machine. But, maybe you remember entering your email password on a suspicious site.

Should you go through all these steps if you fell victim to a phishing attack? You betcha! Many phishing sites install malicious software—especially keyloggers.

Besides, think about the information that could be in your email account. There could be plenty of sensitive data. It’s best to play it safe.

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Do you Need to Update your BIOS?

As as computer user, you’ve probably heard of the BIOS by now, which stands for Basic Input/Output System. It’s that blue DOS-like screen that pops up if you press F8 or F2 while the computer is starting. The BIOS is the “firmware” for your computer. It’s code that is stored on a chip attached to your motherboard and is the first code that is run when your computer starts.

So what exactly does the BIOS do and do you need to update it? In this article, that’s what I am going to try and answer. Depending on who you talk to, you’ll quickly find that there is no one answer. Lots of people feel updating the BIOS is not necessary unless there’s a specific reason while others feel updating to the latest version is always a good idea. I’ll try to list out the pros and cons of both schools of thought. Feel free to let us know what you think in the comments.

What is the BIOS?

The main purpose of the BIOS is to check all the hardware components attached to the computer and then to load the software on a boot device (hard disk or CD/DVD). This first step is called a power-on self-test. The BIOS will check for all hardware components like hard disk drives, CPUs, RAM, graphics cards, keyboards, mice, optical disk drives, and other hardware.

So what else can you do with the BIOS? Mainly, you can use it to configure the hardware on your computer. You can modify settings for hard drives, RAM chips, the CPU and other hardware. You can disable components like USB ports, optical drives, etc. You can change the system clock and manage the power settings from the BIOS also.

One of the main things you can do is setup the main and secondary boot devices. For example, you can change the order of the boot devices so that you can boot from CD/DVD first, then to USB, then to a hard drive, etc.

What does a BIOS Update Include?

If you see there is an update for your BIOS, either through Windows or by visiting the PC manufacturers website, you can usually download an executable program that will perform the update for you. Occasionally, you have to update the BIOS by other methods like using a CD or DVD, but that’s more rare now.

So what does a BIOS update usually include? Here are some of the possible reasons for an updated BIOS:

1. Bug fixes. The BIOS is just code and code is never perfect. An update may include fixes that help the software work better on your machine.

2. Compatibility. An updated BIOS may also include support for newer devices, newer features or newer standards.

3. Performance – There are times where an update include hardware tweaks that can speed up boot time.

The benefits are greater if the computer is older. If you have a machine that is 5 years old and the BIOS has never been updated, the latest version of the BIOS probably has a lot of update and fixes.

Do you need to Update the BIOS?

Now for the real question: do you need to upgrade your BIOS to the latest version? I personally feel that you should only update your BIOS if you’re currently having a problem. If you system is running smoothly and everything is working, why take a risk and possible corrupt your BIOS and end up with a dead machine.

Also, I always check the BIOS change log to see what the latest version of the BIOS has to offer. For example, here’s a change lot for a set of Toshiba computers:

As you can see, the latest version of this BIOS adds support for certain keyboards, support for Celeron and Core i3 processors, improves on some settings for SSD drives, etc. Now if you are having an issue where your computer resumes from sleep or hibernate and takes a long time while using an SSD, that might be fixed with this update, according to the change log. That’s definitely a worthy reason to update the BIOS.

However, if you’re not using an SSD, don’t care about the Brazilian keyboard, don’t have a Celeron or Core i3 processor and don’t plan on changing your processor, etc, etc then the update is probably not necessary. I’ve always felt that a newer version of something is not always better. I’ve run into problems before updating drivers to the latest version and then having to roll back because the new driver was actually causing problems that the older driver never did.

Even though the process to update the BIOS is not very complicated, especially with newer computers, it’s still should only be done if you really need it. Don’t fix it if it’s not broken! If you really are not sure whether you need to upgrade or not, you can try to create a backup of your BIOS and then perform the upgrade.

Check out the link above, which walks you through the process of backing up your BIOS depending on the BIOS company. There are a couple of major ones like American Megatrends, AMI, Award, or Phoenix. Each company has their own tools for making backups of the BIOS.

What are your thoughts on updating the BIOS? Do you update it often or never or once in a while? Let me know in the comments. Enjoy!

Editor’s note: As part of our cleaning series, we are focusing on one topic each day to get your computing life in order. Check back each day this week for a new topic.

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