Smartphones, laptops, tablets... Many of us use our devices every day. Sometimes we love our devices, and sometimes we feel a little less than love towards our devices. Regardless of how we feel towards them, we depend on them. They can hold or retrieve important information, be used to capture and share memories, and handle important transactions for us.
As important as these devices are in our lives, we need to protect them and the information they deliver from various risks. The good news is, protecting them doesn't have to be hard. It does, however, require us to be careful. As convenient as these devices are, keeping them safe can sometimes require we lose a little convenience and adopt a little more security.
Regardless of whether you are using a mobile device or a full computer, there are 3 main areas for device safety:
- Lock Your Device
- Protect Your Device
- Use Your Device Wisely
The following tips and best practices can help you establish good habits and keep you safe with your devices.
Laptops, Desktops and Tablets That Act Like Both
Really, whether you are using a portable device or a full computer, the advice is mostly the same.
Lock Your Device
- Your computer should be locked down on two levels. You should have an administrator level account (also referred to as Admin) that is not your primary user account. This keep things separate from the Admin account, which helps protect the computer from certain kinds of attacks. You then have the option to set up multiple users profiles for each person who uses the computer. You can also set up safeguards on kids' access that you may not need on your own access. Even personal user accounts should have a password lock, just in case your computer is stolen.
- Passwords don't need to be difficult to remember, but should be hard to guess. A helpful trick is to create a phrase or sentence that is longer than traditional passwords. Sure, some password requirements may necessitate adding capitals, numbers and special characters, but you can work those in.
- Don't leave your passwords in plain sight. Seriously, do we even need to be reminded of this one? You might be surprised. Next time you are visiting family or friends, count the number of sticky notes around someone's computer. Chances are pretty good, at least one of them is a password.
Protect Your Device
Anti-virus, anti-malware and anti-spyware, oh my! And let's not forget the updates! Computers are susceptible to viruses and exploits, and most issues you hear about in the news occur as a result of poor protection and out-of-date software. The good news is there are plenty of solutions to help you stay on top of this.
- Security Software is a MUST-HAVE! Anti-virus, anti-malware, anti-spyware, firewalls, and other types of software are designed to monitor your device and protect against intrusions and security-compromising exploits. Some security software is free to use, although those versions usually offer only basic protection, skipping many helpful features. You may want to use a security suite that handles multiple threats and provides more features. You will pay for a full suite service, but the full features and support provided can be enough to justify the cost.
- Updates should never be ignored - Most updates happen automatically unless you specifically ask for them not to occur. It's usually best to go with the auto updates to ensure you don't miss anything. Where people mostly fall into dangerous territory, however, is with outdated operating systems, which then leads to other software being outdated. System exploits can occur in different ways, and are used by hackers to take advantage of those times when a web browser, other program or operating system goes unpatched. As an example, if you are still running Windows XP on your machine, then you no longer receive updates for the operating system and you cannot get the newest Internet Explorer browser. Both create some exploit potential. The short answer is, if the decision is up to you, then get a device that is running a current, supported operating system.
Think Before You Act
- Watch where you go. Regardless of the type of device you're using, where you visit is critical to keeping you safe. You should run away from any site that throws big "Alert" messages at you as pop ups, such as "You've Won!", "You're infected!" or "Download our video player". Typically these types of messages appear on websites with ethically questionable offerings, which should be the first warning sign anyway. Sometimes your browser will even warn you. If you end up on a site that your browser warns you against visiting, then it may be in your best interest to actually heed the warning.
- Be very careful about what you download and from where you download. Much like the previous tip, you need to be careful about what you invite onto your computer. If the download is designed to engage in dubious behaviors, then you should not put any faith any claims they make about safety. As for from where you download, it's always best to use official websites of products and services. If you are downloading software from a file sharing application or site (sometimes known as a torrent), there's no telling who has touched and manipulated the files you are downloading.
- Watch what email you open. If you have emails that have been marked as spam, and you still choose to open them, you put yourself at risk. Only consider those emails if you are confident there were marked spam by mistake. For more information on email safety, refer to our section on Staying Safe with Email and Texts.