Computer Tips

Computer hacking not going away.  EBONY HORTON | Dothan Eagle
Published: March 03, 2012

In this day and age, Dothan PC owner Mike McArdle said there’s only one type of computer that’s safe.

And that’s the one that’s not hooked to the Internet.

Hacking efforts and widespread computer viruses are continuing to expand both locally and internationally for a variety of reasons, including hackers illegally cracking into private computer systems to corrupt or steal valuable personal information, according to authorities. Houston County’s website was down for about a week after it was hacked on Feb. 21 and indecent content was posted.

Incidents in which other government websites and those of private companies have surfaced over the last few years as well. In January, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported an Atlanta man was sentenced to a year and a month in prison after he hacked into a protected computer of a competing medical practice in order to gain the personal information of patients for marketing reasons.

Last month, a Hungarian man charged in the U.S. with the hacking of Marriott International Corp. computers in order to extort employment was sentenced to 30 months in prison, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

McArdle said several hacking attempts and viruses can corrupt Microsoft operating systems as well as the Android system for cell phones. Several indicators, such as slow-moving computer programs or the inability to access files, could show a computer has been hacked, he said.

McArdle said hacking often takes place after a person has clicked on fraudulent advertisements or attachments in an email, which can grant access to a hacker.

“The bottom line is that if a real hacker wants to get in, they’re getting in. Personally I don’t believe any website is 100-percent hacker proof. On a bigger scale with corporate intranets, you have an internet use policy that an employee violates and clicks on a link and opens the computers up to a hacker,” McArdle said between repairing computers.

“Most of the time the goal of something like a ‘rootkit’ is to make a zombie out of a computer or use it to send spam. No one’s really safe from it unless there’s no Internet access at all.”

Computer intrusion is handled by both local authorities and federal authorities, and jail sentences and restitution after conviction vary significantly based on the charges.

According to Ozark Police Chief Tony Spivey, most local computer intrusion cases involve identity theft, where someone’s credit card information has been used for online purchases.

He advised residents to be cautious of any emails from people or entities seeking funds, as a majority of the emails could be spam.

McArdle agreed. He said in addition to maintaining up-to-date antivirus software and anti-spyware to help prevent hacking and viruses, the simplest and greatest protection relies in not clicking on random advertisements and emails.

“Right now one that’s going around is an email that claims it’s an invoice. If you know you didn’t order anything, it’s not something you should click on. One of the first things you want to look for before entering personal information on a website is whether or not the website is spelled correctly and there is an ‘s’ after the ‘http,’” he said.


Tips on protection from computer intrusion

Keep Your Firewall Turned On: A firewall helps protect your computer from hackers who might try to gain access to crash it, delete information, or even steal passwords or other sensitive information.

Install or Update Your Antivirus Software: Antivirus software is designed to prevent malicious software programs from embedding on your computer.

Install or Update Your Antispyware Technology: Spyware is just what it sounds like — software that is surreptitiously installed on your computer to let others peer into your activities on the computer. Some spyware collects information about you without your consent or produces unwanted pop-up ads on your web browser.

Keep Your Operating System Up to Date: Computer operating systems are periodically updated to stay in tune with technology requirements and to fix security holes. Be sure to install the updates to ensure your computer has the latest protection.

Be Careful What You Download: Carelessly downloading e-mail attachments can circumvent even the most vigilant anti-virus software. Never open an e-mail attachment from someone you don’t know, and be wary of forwarded attachments from people you do know. They may have unwittingly advanced malicious code.

Turn Off Your Computer: With the growth of high-speed Internet connections, many opt to leave their computers on and ready for action. The downside is that being “always on” renders computers more susceptible. Beyond firewall protection, which is designed to fend off unwanted attacks, turning the computer off effectively severs an attacker’s connection — be it spyware or a botnet that employs your computer’s resources to reach out to other unwitting users.

Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation
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Laptop computers and hot weather.
Every year thousands of laptops all over America die from over heating. Heat is one of the laptops’ worst enemies. High temperature shortens the life of the individual laptop components; this is especially true in the hotter months ahead. Here are some summer tips that will help in extending the life of your laptop.
1. Avoid temperature extremes. The danger zone for laptops starts at 95 degrees — some will actually shut down to prevent damage if they get too hot. But either way, don’t leave it in direct sunlight.
2. Let it acclimate before powering it up. Moving a laptop from air conditioning to the hot outdoors can cause condensation, which can damage components. So shut your PC off when moving it between temperature extremes.
3. Avoid high humidity. Many laptops can experience electrical problems when the humidity is very high, such as 80 percent. Don’t work outside with a laptop on days like this, or you could fry your PC.
4. Use a stand to dissipate heat. Especially in hot weather, it’s important to let the laptop breathe. Don’t work with it directly in your lap, on a blanket, or on a jacket — anything that will block vents and also act as an insulator. Ideally, use a stand to elevate it and allow for airflow.
5. Beware of your car. You wouldn’t lock your kid or dog in a hot car in the summer, and you shouldn’t leave your laptop there either. If you must leave your laptop in the car, be absolutely certain it’s completely turned off.
Careful shopping online.

There are lots of tricky sites redirecting to other sites that will harm your computer. Always make sure you’re at a secure site when purchasing something online. Try and stay with the big stores like: Amazon, Walmart,, etc… Cheers and Happy Computing Everyone!
Call from India or from anywhere else for that matter – Scam
A number of customers have reported that they get a phone call from India that refers to them by their name, spells their street address, and say they are calling from Microsoft.
Then they say that the computer is infected and that they will “walk you through the steps”, and at some time will ask for payment.
This is a SCAM. Please do not allow unauthorized persons access to your computer.
How to Protect Your Computer From the Latest Viruses.

Understanding the anatomy of a malware attack can go a long way toward protecting your computer and yourself from cybercriminals.

In the old days — pre-2000 — hackers hacked for fame and fun. But for today’s cybercriminals, it’s not about the “lulz,” or the laughs — it’s about the money.

Last year, one organized-crime group made $330 million from fake anti-virus (“fake AV”) software, said Chester Wisniewski, senior security adviser at the Canadian office of British security firm Sophos.

“That’s an average of $120 a sale,” said Wisniewski, who was attending a security seminar in Salt Lake City. “And I can tell you that that’s a lot more than legitimate companies get.”

“No one is immune,” Wisniewski said. “I hear this all the time: ‘I’m a safe surfer.’ ‘I don’t visit “those” kinds of sites,’ referring to porn and gambling, ‘so my computer is safe.’”

“Wrong,” said Wisniewski. “Do you visit or the Washington Post?”

Sophos Labs examines 35 million infected Web pages each day — and it estimates that 85 percent of infected websites are legitimate sites that don’t know they’ve been compromised.

Gateway to malware

Criminals hijack these trusted sites to plant links that siphon people to not-so-legitimate sites hosted by illegitimate Web-hosting companies, known as “bullet-proof hosts” for their ability to evade the law.

It’s usually from these secondary pages that hidden software can be injected into your computer without your knowledge — a process known as a “drive-by download” — but sometimes legitimate sites infect your browser as well.

So while sticking to trusted sites won’t guarantee your computer’s safety, another kind of behavior is much more effective.

Constant vigilance about updating your computer’s operating system and applications — especially Web browsers and anti-virus software — will help prevent malicious code from entering your computer, whether it’s a PC or a Mac.

Sophos is now seeing three or four new variants of Mac viruses every day, Wisniewski said, which is almost nothing compared with the 100 daily new Windows variants.

However, 90 percent of Windows users have up-to-date anti-virus protection, he said, while just 2 percent of Mac users do.

Coincidentally, Wisniewski said, each group of unprotected users is about the same size, making them equally vulnerable to attack.

False security alerts

Once it’s inside your computer, there are several things that malware may do. These days, the most common thing may be for the malware to generate a false infection alert, in order to scare you into buying fake anti-virus software.

“We’re seeing that these programs are starting to emulate a lot of free [security] products, such as Microsoft Security Essentials,” Wisniewski said.

Each kind of fake AV attack starts out with the same sort of pop-up alert about your bogus malware infection — “We don’t know what it is, but it’s really bad,” in Wisniewski’s words.

If the user clicks on the pop-up, the next window will show a list of 20 or more anti-virus vendors. Mixed in with the big names are several unknown brands, which just happen to be the only ones that claim to be effective against the “unknown” problem.

If users purchase the software, their credit cards will be charged, their card information will be compromised, and the “software” won’t work — at best. At worst, it could open up your machine to even more real malware.

‘Extreme’ alerts add porn

To create more pressure to buy, one variant of fake AV launches porn photo pop-ups on the home screen until you give in and pay for the software.

“Even experienced computer users have been taken in by this one,” Wisniewski said. “In their panic to get the pictures off their screens, they push the ‘buy’ buttons.”

The porn disappears as promised, but the malware remains in the computer.

Remote control

Infected computers can “call home” to their command-and-control servers, which can instruct them to become part of a criminal network — a “botnet” — for spamming and other purposes, all without the owner’s knowledge. The computer has been turned into a so-called “zombie.”

If you have noticed anything unusual on your computer recently, including suspicious security alerts, manually update your genuine anti-virus software and then run a security scan.

If the scan doesn’t find anything, use a free secondary AV program such as Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware. (Mac users can use Sophos AV for Mac, also free.)

It’s probably best NOT to search for this or any anti-virus program on a search engine such as Google. Spoofing legitimate vendors’ pages is another trick that criminals use.

Instead, go to and type in “Malwarebytes.” Anti-Malware should be the top search result with version, added on 7/14/11. (The same works for Sophos — just make sure you check the box for Mac software.)

You might also try a system restore that will return your computer back to an earlier, and hopefully uninfected, state.

Malware manipulation

Instead of exploiting a system or software vulnerability, some criminals prefer to trick you via email, Facebook, Skype or other Internet service.

A lot of the scams work using so-called social engineering, a fancy name for psychological manipulation.

For example, one current scam targets paying users of AOL email accounts.

Users are getting emails asking them to update their accounts, but the update involves providing the email sender with their credit-card numbers, bank routing numbers, ATM PINs, driver’s license numbers and Social Security numbers — all signs of a classic identity-theft scam.

AOL has asked that customers NOT respond to these emails, and to instead forward them to abuse@aol.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

(By the way, if you’re still paying for an AOL account, you can stop paying right now. AOL has been free since September 2006 — the company just hasn’t told all its customers. Call customer service and switch to a free account. This will not affect your service.)


Along with anti-virus protection, Wisniewski recommends that people eliminate known vulnerabilities from their computers.

For instance, remove programs that are out of date, such as Winzip, Real Player and Adobe Shockwave. Remove add-on toolbars from your browsers and disable the auto-run function for Adobe PDF Reader.

For Wisniewski, it’s like childproofing your house before the baby starts walking or the grandkids come to visit.

“Treat your data as if it were your child,” he said.
Beware the new smartphone virus

NO ONE knows who lies behind Zeus. Security experts believe he or she is Russian, although no one is completely sure. But what they all agree is that Zeus is the most pernicious ”Trojan Horse” on the internet. During the past four years it has infected millions of PCs, taking control of the computer and stealing personal banking details.

Microsoft has fought a running battle against Zeus, which is one of the most difficult types of malware to detect – but the great fear among cybercrime experts is no longer home computers. A new strain of Zeus, dubbed ”Zitmo” (it stands for ”Zeus in the mobile”) has begun to exploit a huge hole in personal banking security: the smartphone in your pocket.

In the past fortnight, this malicious new version of Zeus, which attacks phones using the Android operating system, has sparked intense concern among security companies. One major US internet security provider, Trusteer, claimed Google Android is ”fraudsters’ heaven”. Trusteer chief executive Mickey Boodaei said in a blog: ”Bad news: fraudsters have all the tools they need to effectively turn mobile malware into the biggest customer security problem we’ve ever seen.”

But it’s not just Zeus that smartphone customers should be worrying about, according to Alex Fidgen of MWR InfoSecurity, one of the biggest cybercrime-busting outfits in Britain. It legally hacks into computers to test security. More recently it has turned its attention to smartphones and found that it can crack open every new handset it sees.

”The mobile phone industry is not fit for purpose, especially for financial transactions,” says Fidgen. ”The evidence is irrefutable. You cannot be assured of security with modern smartphones. As soon as the handset is compromised, then any data is up for grabs.”

Fidgen says the fault lies with the handset manufacturers rather than the network providers or banks. In the race to bring new phones and new features to the market, many have left security low on the agenda. Modern smartphones, particularly when they are used in public Wi-Fi hot spots, can become fatally compromised. Trojans can enter a smartphone in many ways. All you have to do is click on a link or attachment that contains the virus, and within seconds it can secretly seize control. That link might be a TinyURL in Twitter. The attachment could be a vCard, the standard format for sending a business card to a phone.

Or it could be that you are accessing a website in a cafe. At Wi-Fi hot spots, fraudsters create bogus gateways, known as ”evil twins”, to which the latest mobile phones will automatically connect. Once a connection is established, all the information passing through the gateway can be read directly or decrypted, allowing fraudsters to harvest user names, passwords and messages. Until now, these attacks have been rare. But experts say that’s just because smartphones are still taking off. ”We’re walking into a minefield,” says Fidgen, who has been warning about the risks for several months, ”but nobody’s bloody listening.”

At Trusteer, Boodaei forecasts that ”within 12 to 24 months, more than one in 20 of all Android phones and iPads/iPhones could become infected by mobile malware”.

Are Apple iPhones safer than Android? MWR InfoSecurity says Apple’s famed security from viruses doesn’t quite translate to mobile devices. ”Both platforms have problems,” says the company. ”The Android market has quite a reputation for serving malware regularly, whereas Apple seems to be in better control of the content of the App Store. Android, however, has Sandbox [a security feature], which limits the impact of malicious or vulnerable applications. This can help limit the effectiveness of the malware, a feature that does not exist on the Apple platform.”

BlackBerry phones are considered safer to use, as their maker, RIM, ”keeps details of the platform a secret, which makes it much harder for attackers to write malware”.

All the experts are agreed that ”jailbreaking” – where you remove the limitations imposed by Apple on iPhones and iPads – exposes the user to much wider security threats.

Why not simply add an anti-virus program to your smartphone? The bad news is that the phones may have been built so poorly in the first place that the anti-virus programs won’t be much help. All they do is give a false sense of security to users, say the experts.

Last week, a report in InformationWeek, a respected US technology magazine, warned of an ingenious new approach by Zeus/Zitmo that tricks home PC users into downloading it on to their smartphone. The Trojan sleeps on the home PC until the user logs into a bank website. At that point it wakes up, intercepts the process, asking the user to download a new security device on to their mobile phone to complete the banking log-in process. But in reality, the new security device is the Zeus Trojan infecting their phone. Once it’s on, it takes control of the user’s phone.

At the heart of Zeus is a Russian developer who produces the source code and then licenses the program to numerous fraudsters in the criminal underworld. This software genius regularly sends out patches and updates so that every time it is detected Zeus bounces back again.

Don Jackson of Dell’s security arm, SecureWorks, is the person who first discovered Zeus, in 2007.

”Zitmo has all the hallmarks of the original author of Zeus. This brand new version is his flagship new product, which he’s making available to a select few. He writes it, sells it for huge amounts of money, and even supports his ‘customers’ to rid it of any bugs that develop.”
Patrick Collinson, Friday 22 July 2011 18.02 EDT
The Fate of Your Dropped Laptop

The fate of your dropped laptop depends on a number of factors, including the height from which you dropped it, the nature of the fall, the model of the laptop and sheer luck. Some repairs are so minor, you could fix the computer yourself, while others will require consultation with a professional and money out of your pocket. If you’ve just dropped your laptop and notice there’s something wrong with it, don’t panic. Do a thorough inspection of the machine and decide whether you will need outside assistance.
Examine the case (your laptop’s exterior casing, not the carrying case.) Damages to the case might only be cosmetic and are often not even worth fixing unless you plan to sell the computer.
However, severe damages to the case are often good indicators that the hardware has been damaged, too. Check to see if the case if broken, bent, or cracked.
Take a look at your laptop’s screen and check if it is cracked or damaged. This kind of damage will require a professional computer technician to repair. You might need to have the entire screen replaced depending on the extent of the damage.
Plug in your laptop and try to boot up the system. Do this in a quiet room so you can listen for signs of damage. If the laptop is not significantly damaged, you should hear the the fans starting up, the hard drive spinning, and other normal sounds your computer makes during start-up.
Check with your laptop’s manufacturer if you hear unfamiliar beeping. Most manufacturers have specific meanings for the different beep sequences a damaged computer will make.
Listen for weird clicking, buzzing or other unusual noises coming from you computer’s hard drive. This might be an indication that your hard drive is damaged and will need to be replaced.
If your computer does not turn on at all, check if the battery and plug are connected securely. Verify that there is no damage in these areas and try to boot up again. Contact a professional if your computer appears to be completely dead.
If you choose to repair the laptop no matter what the professionals say about the damage, I feel for you and your future children. If the only reason you want to repair the dropped laptop, no matter what the cost of professional advice is then I would suggest spending your money on a good pychologist. Bottom line: A dropped laptop can sometimes be repaired and sometimes it cannot. If it cannot, then simply purchase a new one and move on with your life. Laptops are delicate just like cell phones. If you drop your cell phone and it doesn’t work after the drop, I’ll bet you do not hesitate to purchase a replacement. Happy Computing!
Maintaining your computer tips.

Maintaining your computer is important to
making sure that it is running at its optimal level.
It also helps to make sure that it remains as
healthy as the day you bought it. From installing
the right virus protection software from a
reputable IT support company to regularly
defragmenting your hard drive, we’ve got the
best tips on how keep your computer in top

1. Defragmenting your computer regularly:
Defragmenting your computer is easy and
should be done every 3-4 months. When you
use your computer files can become scattered
and are rewritten to the hard drive.
Defragmenting means that the computer goes
through its system and cleans everything out,
packing files tightly making it perform better and
will encounter less errors.

2.  Keep your PC clean: When we clean we often
skip over things like the computer. As a result
dust can accumulate at the back of the system
and cause it to overheat. It’s a good idea to make
sure that your computer is clean to avoid this

3. Check for any errors: You can do this by using
a software to check for errors that may be
occurring in your hard drive. By detecting these
early you can arrange for them to be fixed or you
can look at having your hard drive replaced
before it crashes if it looks like that may happen
due to all of the errors occurring. This should be
done on a regular basis, for instance once a

4. Keep your hard drive clean and tidy: It’s a good
idea to keep track of your files and programs by
getting rid of anything you don’t use or no longer
want. Remember that programs and certain
software needs to be un-installed so this process
needs to be completed correctly to make sure it is
wiped from the computer.

5. Back up your files and preferably your entire
system: It is very easy for computers to crash at
pivotal moments when you are working on
something very important. The last thing you
want is to lose all of that data. Buy an external
hard drive and back up all of your important files.
If possible, back up your entire system on a
regular basis.

6.  Keep your protection software up to date: It is
very important that you keep all of your software
for your computer up to date. Some Business IT
Support Companies can also send out reminders
when you need to update your software if you
have purchased your virus protection from
them. All software needs to be updated regularly
so keep on top of this.

These are a few keys ways that you can maintain
your computer at its optimal level. By following
the steps above you should find that your
computer stays in top shape for many years after
purchase. I hope our tips have given you some
helpful advice on steps you can take to ensure the
longevity of your computer system.
Spyware, Virus, Malware, Trojan and Disappearing files

More and more bad viruses, spyware, trojans and rootkits are hiding on servers throughout the internet. Just waiting to jump on your laptop or desktop and wreak havock with your Facebook, Farmville, email and daily internet usage. Lately, one of the bugs is hiding the folders and files from the user. This happens after the user inadvertently tries to purchase the “fake” security software for $59. These fake pop ups and spyware ads come in all sorts of flavors like: AntiMalwareSuite, AntiVirus2011, AntiMalwareGuard, AntiVirusSentry, BestsellerAntivirus, BugDoctor, Computer Defender 2011, DriveCleaner, Easy SpyRemover, Error Scan and Fix, ESpywareRemoval, Evidence Eliminator, Fix Tool, FullSystemProtection, Home Antivirus, InternetAntiSpy, KillAllSpyware, Malware Stopper, MalwarePatrol Pro, MS Antispyware, NetSpyProtector, PC Security, Privacy Protection Suite, Registry Defender Platinum, Spy Reaper, SpyNoMore. This is just a very small sample of the different names they use. Scared yet? Well, don’t be scared. Take action with your antivirus/antispyware program by keeping it updated daily and doing full system scans when you are not using the computer or laptop. I often get the question: How often should I run a scan? My answer is: If you use your laptop or pc daily, accessing the internet, then run a scan of some sort (antivirus, antispyware) while you’re sleeping and check on it in the morning. Another common question is: Who is doing this and where does it come from? My answer: I don’t know who or where the who lives, but I do know that spyware and viruses sit on servers all over the world (unintentionally) and folks get these infections when they visit these servers. Stay alert to how your computer is responding to your input. If something seems a little off (like deja vu, from The Matrix) stop what you’re doing and scan with your security programs immediately. If you’re sick and tired of doing this, then bring it to and we’ll do it for you.


Computers and Severe Tornado Alabama Weather
In light of the recent tornadoes in the great state of Alabama, I am encouraged to remind folks about protecting your laptop, desktop and notebook computers. When these storms are imminent it is best to unplug all of your devices. Don’t forget to unplug your wired ethernet cable that goes from your modem/router to your laptop/desktop. I have seen alot of damage done from the power surge or lightning finding its way from the dsl or cable box to the laptop or computer. Sometimes it damages the nic (network interface card) sometimes it damages the whole computer. When storms are forcast to be near your home or business, be sure to unplug everything from their outlets.
If your equipment gets soaked by rain, do not power them on. Sometimes they can be saved by properly drying them out. With your laptop, remove the battery immediately, turn the laptop on its edge and let the water drain out for a day or two. After that, a long warm blow dry with your hair dryer can help. Not too hot as it can melt the plastics and cause other problems.
If you don’t feel comfortable doing these steps with your laptop or desktop, bring it to and we’ll do it for you.

Computer Tricks – Shortcut Keys

A few great shortcut keys that are great computer tricks are:

Hold the windows key and press M
This will minimise all windows in one key press! This is the same as pressing the ‘Show Desktop’ icon but without having to click on it. It should be noted that Windows key + D also works for this!

Hold the windows key and press L
This will lock your workstation instantly. This means that if you are in a public place or a shared machine and go for a toilet break but do not wish for anyone to sneak a peak at what you are doing, or at worst steal your files, then this will take you back to the login screen instantly. Very handy indeed!

Hold alt then press F4
This is quite a common one but should be mentioned here anyway. This key press will close your current window. If your screen is getting cluttered you can go on a ‘close rampage’ by holding down the F4 key as well! Good times!

Hold ctrl then press F4
The junior brother of alt F4. Instead of closing the whole window this will close internal windows within the current program. For example if you have multiple windows open in one instance of Microsoft Word this will close them one at a time. The best part is this works for the tab browsing that has come in to play in recent browsers. The key press closes the active tab you are viewing! This is one of the best computer tricks I find when browsing as it is really effective for FireFox for closing tabs.

Hold alt and press tab
This will cycle between programs on your computer. This feature isn’t that useful until you install this nice little Microsoft tool which will show a thumbnail of the program your about the switch to. If you don’t wish to activate the selected program keep holding down alt and press tab again to cycle to the next one!

Hold the windows key and press break
A lesser known shortcut but still useful! This one will open the System Properties dialog window which displays your RAM etc.

Hold the windows key and press E
This will open ‘My Computer’ in explorer style mode. This is very handy if you want to access your files and disk drives from anywhere without having to find the icon on the desktop or start menu.

Custom Shortcut Keys!
Another lesser known trick is setting up your own custom key presses. This works for a per-program basis. To setup a shortcut key to your favorite program first you need to right click on the shortcut icon you commonly use and then press on properties. Click on the Shortcut’ tab and there will be a text field called ‘Shortcut key’. Simply click in that and enter the key press you wish to use. Press OK and that key press is permanently associated with that program. This is very handy for many things such as opening word or opening your favorite game!

Is tech injuring children?

Mitali Perkins worries about her sons’ hands.

Her 13-year-old twins, James and Timothy, are avid gamers who own three computers, two Sony PlayStations, a Nintendo GameCube and a Microsoft Xbox. Physically, they’re fit, with one oddity: The boys can bend their thumbs all the way back to their forearms, and they constantly stretch and crack their knuckles with ease. For tasks like ringing a doorbell, dialing a phone number and changing the remote, they use their thumbs.

“The word ‘arthritis’ comes to mind,” Perkins wrote in an e-mail to CNET

The Perkins boys’ flexi-thumbs could be genetic–or they could be the physical adaptation of two game fanatics, just like big thighs are to bicyclists and strong shoulders are to swimmers. Whatever the case, the prolonged exposure to technology by a generation of kids has doctors, researchers and physical therapists expecting a rash of new repetitive stress injuries in the coming years.

A study from 2000 in Australia on the effects of laptop computers in schools showed that 60 percent of students aged 10 to 17 complained of neck and back discomfort while using the PC.

“Not since the development of a written language has the task performed by children and adults changed so dramatically,” according to the report from the International Ergonomics Association.

“It’s something to examine because if we don’t, boy, we’re going to have a huge problem as they get older.”
–Karen Lunda,
physical therapistUnfortunately, conclusive research on the subject of computer ergonomics for kids has been lacking. But researchers are concerned nonetheless.

“The exposure to ergonomic risk hazards for children is expected to be higher than it would be for adults because of the sheer amount of time that they’re on computers at home and at school,” said Ken Harwood, director of the practice department at the American Physical Therapy Association.

“So we expect to be seeing more diagnoses of repetitive stress injuries (RSI) in kids in the upcoming years as these kids start to develop, but we lack the evidence that supports it,” said Harwood, who’s also a physical therapist and certified industrial ergonomic specialist.

Repetitive stress as young as 8

Some physical therapists and pediatricians are already citing cases of RSI in children as young as 8 years old. Kids complain of headaches, neck problems and backaches. And when pediatricians can’t identify the source, they’ll send the child to a physical therapist.

“We see so many more middle school children with neck (pain) and backaches,” said Doreen Frank, a physical therapist based near Albany, N.Y. “When we evaluate them and find there’s been no trauma or no new activity, it narrows down to the fact that they sit for way too long and then they’re on the computer way too long,” Frank said.

Many adults who have witnessed kids trading hobbies like soccer or dance for instant messaging and computer games aren’t surprised by these concerns. But even athletic children can suffer as a result of prolonged states of sedentary computer slump without break that strain developing muscles and joints. In the last five years, Frank said, at least 5 percent of her patients have been middle school children with neck and back pain, some in just the sixth grade.

Alan Hedge, a professor of ergonomics at Cornell University, said it takes an average of five to 10 years for people with poor computer habits to develop RSI problems. At that rate, kids in high school or college today might be primed for stress injuries while in the workplace–and it would likely be recorded as a work-related injury. Because there’s no national database tracking child ergonomics issues in schools, there would be no way for researchers to understand the scope of the effects, he said.

Still, there’s hope that digital kids could adapt to their heavy computer use.

A theory called the “Healthy Worker Effect” supposes that when someone performs a repetitive task for a long time, like lifting heavy boxes or surfing the Web, the person can develop a resistance to problems associated with the activity. The effect may be developmental, according to Harwood, in that children could develop a body structure to handle more ergonomic stress than they would have if they started the task as an adult.

Harwood said that it’s not easy to measure RSI symptoms and then link them to a particular activity. Most research is conducted through surveys, he said, and kids don’t fare well filling out such questionnaires. However, he said, there have been many studies in adults that show a relationship between computer use and RSI, and that could correlate to children. There’s a need to track children’s use of technology over time so as to measure future effect, he said.

“There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done in this area,” he said.

Hours and hours each day

The potential dangers are associated with several trends. One, of course, is the ubiquity of computers, cell phones, text messaging, instant messaging, social networking, and whatever the next technological fad might be. More than 80 percent of American kids age 12 to 17 use the Internet, and more than half of those kids log on daily, according to a Pew Internet and American Life study.

Kids nowadays can spend hours cradling a cell phone with a crooked neck, slumping over a computer game, slouching in front of a PC while text messaging friends and listening to music. And that’s on top of time they might spend in school on a PC surfing the Web to research topics and do homework.

Experts are particularly concerned about the ergonomics of PC setups in schools because many computer labs are designed with a one-size-fits-all approach. Children might not have chairs suited to them or computer screens at eye-level that help avoid common repetitive strain.

College and high-school kids could once be found on a bed or couch reading a book for school. Now, studies are happening more on the computer, adding hours to sitting at the PC.

The state of Maine, for example, has mandated that all school kids be equipped with a computer. Microsoft, too, has donated computers to schools. Yet many such initiatives don’t include programs to teach children how to use those computers properly to avoid injury, experts say.

“We’ll have trouble; then we’ll accommodate to it,” said Dr. Stephen Nicholas, director of the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma.

Karen Lunda, a physical therapist in Tuscon, Ariz., said when it comes to children, people consider the developmental vulnerabilities they’re prone to in many activities. For example, the pitcher in Little League baseball is restricted in how many innings he or she can pitch to avoid arm injury. The same might be warranted for computer use, she said. Perhaps, she added, kids should be forced to take a break every 1,000 keystrokes.

“It’s something to examine because if we don’t, boy, we’re going to have a huge problem as they get older,” she said.

Except for a few initiatives, very little has been done in the United States to protect children from computer injury and teach them good habits like regular breaks, posture and stretches, experts say. The state of New Jersey has passed legislation to set standards for school furniture that would support computer use, but the measure has yet to be enacted. At least one company, Magnitude, has developed software for schools called Ergo Fun. Cornell has also developed downloadable software that teaches kids the principles of PC ergonomics.
“If you teach children the principles of good ergonomics for using computers when they’re young, then those will become habits to protect them throughout their life,” said Cornell’s Hedge.

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