If you read this blog, odds are today and tomorrow you’ll be responsible for “fixing” the computers of your extended family. It’s also a great excuse to get you some much-needed web browsing time if the family conversations get boring. Here’s my (very short) checklist:

  1. Make sure they’re behind some sort of NAT firewall/home router. Anything that keeps them from being directly connected to the Internet. Do a quick check to make sure it isn’t forwarding any ports to internal addresses. A cheap $50 router/wireless access point alone will stop most worm/network attacks. If they don’t have one, you now have a convenient excuse to visit Fry’s Electronics or your local Circuit Buy.
  2. Back up their photos onto an external hard drive or CD/DVD. For many people, nothing else really matters. This should get you out of any idle chit-chat, and no one needs to know you’re reading Slashdot and drinking a beer in the back room. You can milk this one for as long as needed, and it comes across as being more helpful than just watching sports.
  3. Check to see if Windows is updated. If it isn’t, assume they are infected. If they don’t have SP2, buy them a new computer.
  4. Run a quick scan for any obvious spyware/malware. I ask if the computer’s been running slow lately; that’s a good indicator. Otherwise just download one of the free tools and give it a run. If their AV suite is out of date, and they use the computer for more than the most simple of tasks, assume it’s infected. At this point I will usually load up a free suite of tools (AVG Free, whatever anti-spyware is handy, and activate the Windows firewall). This is your time to work on blog entries and maybe Twitter a bit, although if the computer is infected you won’t want to log into any of your accounts. If you need more alone time, stare at the screen and curse occasionally as people walk past. They’ll leave you alone.
  5. If you’re pretty sure it’s infected you have a choice. If the computer is old, tell them to buy a new one (preferably a Mac). If it’s current but blasted, tell them to back up important files and nuke it from orbit. If it’s your parents, back up and nuke it yourself. Send someone to buy you better beer (Stone Arrogant Bastard should do) so you can “concentrate” better.
  6. Tell your father/uncle/father-in-law/whoever to stop going to “those” sites. When they deny it, show them their cookie files. When they still deny it, close the door to the room and open up the web cache. If they still deny it, blame your 4 year-old nephew and suggest a good child psychologist. If they don’t cave at this point, tell them Crazy Uncle Bobby touched you as a kid; maybe it’s his fault.
  7. Turn on their antispam, preferably at the ISP level. This will stop a lot of email viruses.
  8. No matter what, tell them you found terrorist child pornography from gambling sites on their system, and inform them to never click on anything in email. This should keep them out of trouble.

If you just backup the files, do a quick check, and figure out if you need to nuke it or keep it, that’s enough and only takes a few minutes. Feel free to extend as long as needed based on your particular family dynamics.

If your family has Macs, you might need to fake it. They’ll probably catch you.

Me? My immediate family has Macs and my wife’s side is local and I fix things as they happen. The good beer is in the fridge and I intend to fully enjoy a couple days of watching sports and making Lego robots with my nieces and nephew.

Happy Holidays- see ya in a few days.