What I did for Mother’s Day

Last month, Rapid7’s Trey Ford appealed to security professionals:

You have an opportunity to be an ambassador. When you see XP out there, have an adult conversation, educate in terms that others will appreciate. Your actions and words reflect on the entire community.

As the family CIO/CSO – look for the smart investment. There are options that will make your life easier. A small investment is a lot easier to stomach than compromised shopping/banking/credit card credentials (or identity theft.)

I found an option he didn’t mention. I found a returned off-lease refurbished Dell Optiplex 780 at Micro Center. Since it was returned, it was massively discounted–I paid about $98, after taxes, for a corporate-quality PC that was built in 2010. My employer has machines older than this one still in service. I bought it for my mom, who’s been using a Compaq Evo minitower running Windows XP for the last six or seven years. That Evo has served her well, but it’s running XP, doesn’t run modern web browsers all that well, and won’t run Windows 7 well.

All other things being equal I prefer HP/Compaq equipment, but for $98, I stole that Dell. It came with Windows 7, which will be supported until 2020. The cheap, nasty keyboard and mouse it came with aren’t even good enough for the bottom of the barrel, but at that price I won’t complain. With 2 GB of RAM it’s a little underpowered, but it has three DIMM slots open, and it’s already running 64-bit Windows 7 so we can put more memory in at any time.

There’s nothing wrong with looking at Chromebooks and tablets, but when you can get quality hardware running Windows 7 for $100-$150, that option ought to be on the table too, especially if you’ve broken them of the habit of installing everything that moves. Over the course of a year or two, max out its memory and put an SSD in, and the machine will give several years of good service. The hardware may or may not quite make it to 2020, but don’t automatically assume it won’t. Mom’s Evo is 11 or 12 years old. Yes, in 2020 you’ll be looking to replace it again, for security reasons, but at that point there will be lots of options.

Here’s how I found my bargain. I browsed to Micro Center’s site, picked my local store, and looked at PCs priced at $100-$200. Click on each model, and you can see if there are any open-box discounts available. The Dell 780 was the only one that came up for me on this particular Saturday. I bought it online, paid for it from home, then drove to the store to pick it up. You won’t find a bargain every day, but with some patience you can fairly often.

I build my own PCs, but I always steer relatives toward off-lease stuff. It’s less hassle and when you’re not constantly upgrading, it ends up costing less that way. That strategy has been working for me for 10 years now. I still do a bit of computer maintenance every holiday, but with good hardware and good security software loaded on it–MS Security Essentials, EMET and Secunia PSI, blocking malware sites, turning on automatic updates, and installing at least one non-IE browser is a reasonable start–I’m doing preventative maintenance and minor tuneups, rather than system rebuilds like I used to do.

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