Tech Q&A: PC security, 3D printing, laptop backups and more

REUTERS/U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General/Handout via Reuters

 (REUTERS/U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General/Handout via Reuters)

Test your PC’s security

Q. I read a tip on your site called “5 ways hackers attack you and how to beat them.” I have security software on my PC. How do I know it’s really working?

A. That’s a great question. For starters, download the free Microsoft Security Baseline Analyzer. It checks your Windows system for the latest security updates and weak spots in your settings. It’s also very important to keep your browser and plug-ins updated. Check if your browser is up to snuff here. You’re not done yet. To be on the safe side, click here to be sure your firewall is not letting hackers slip in.

Getting started in 3D printing

Q. I'm fascinated by 3D printing. It sounds like a technology I'd love to try. Is it practical for home use yet?

A. The price of home 3D printers is actually getting affordable, ranging from $300 to $2,000 depending on the model and what it can print. Makerbot, XYZprinting and Dremel are popular manufacturers to check out. Whether the printer is actually useful is up to you and your imagination. You can make a variety of objects with them, ranging from toys to prosthetics. Click here to learn how to select the right printer, the software you need and examples of what you can make at home.

Is this the end of backups?

Q. I need to replace my 5-year-old laptop with a new one. I noticed some new laptops have solid-state hard drives. The salesman said those are very reliable. If I get an SSD, does that mean I don't have to do backups anymore?

A. SSDs are faster, more energy efficient and tougher to break than conventional hard drives, but don't think that lets you off the hook for backing up. A manufacturing defect, power surge, theft or natural disaster can cost you your data. You still need to back up your photos, music, business documents and other files in another location to keep them safe. However, an SSD is a good buy. Click here for more about how SSDs work and why you want one in your next computer.

Best finance apps for families

Q. I'm trying to teach my children about money. Is there a financial app out there that will help them make a budget and track their spending?

A. I'm going through the same thing with my son, and there are a few apps I'm finding helpful. For a family, Goodbudget (Android, Apple; free) is a good starting place. It creates virtual envelopes for things like groceries, gas, spending money, money for the kids and more. You can see at a glance how much money is left in each envelope. Goodbudget syncs this information to multiple gadgets so everyone in the family can be on the same page. Click here for other finance apps to track spending and keep an eye on your credit score.

Play the market without losing money

Q. I'm thinking about taking part of my tax refund and putting it in the stock market. I don't want to lose my money trying to figure out what I'm doing. Is there a way to "test-drive" the stock market or something like that?

A. There are plenty of stock market simulators that give you pretend money and let you conduct virtual trades so you can get your feet wet without taking a bath. TradeHero (Android, Apple; free), for example, gives you $100,000 to invest in a virtual stock portfolio and pulls real-time data from 22 exchanges around the world. If you want something a little more game-like, Invstr (Android, Apple; free) lets you chat with other investors and play more than 200 market-based games to help sharpen your trading skills. Click here for even more apps that help you learn the stock market and some tips for coming out ahead.

Bonus: Remove private information from photos

Q. I caught your national radio show while you were talking to a woman who was getting stalked online by a former boyfriend. You told her to remove hidden information, like GPS location data, from her smartphone photos. How can I make sure this information is gone before I post photos online?

A. Fortunately, most social networks strip location data out of photos when they're uploaded. But if you're posting to a photo-sharing site or directly to a personal website, that information stays in. You can check smartphone photos and remove information before you upload using an app like Pixelgarde. On a computer, XnView can quickly show what photos include the information and erase it from multiple photos at a time. It’s not just photos though. Learn 5 scary ways that creeps stalk you online by reading this article on my site.

On the Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Kim also posts breaking tech news 24/7 at