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January 05, 2017

How to Keep Your Smartphones, Laptops and Tablets Secure

By Special Guest
Luke Ameen, Computer Realm

Most people end up being victims of hacks or theft simply because they are lazy, says Kevin Mitnick, a formerly notorious hacker turned cybersecurity expert. We now think of our electronic gadgets essentially as an extension of ourselves. No one really thinks about getting hacked, until it actually happens. If you have not been living under a rock all this time, you will know about the devastating hacks many prominent celebrities, companies and even political organizations have suffered. You definitely do not want to be in this group.

There are two main ways to protect your electronic devices. One is physical protection, as in keeping your laptop or smartphone from being stolen. The second is cyber protection. You have to protect the content of your device as well. Read ahead to find out how you can secure your laptop, smartphone or tablet and protect your sensitive information.

Safety from Cybercrimes

For most people, cyber threats are far more sinister than physical theft. Indeed, if someone hacks into your computer or smartphone, the hacker can steal your identity, leak sensitive data or drain your bank account. It’s very, very important, therefore, to secure your devices from the inside as well. Most of the security steps you can take are rather simple.

Practice the Most Basic Security Techniques

Most people end up being victims of hacking not because the hackers are oh-so sophisticated, but because they failed to heed the most basic of security measures. Do use a screen lock on your phone, even if it is annoying. It’s best to use a PIN password on handheld devices as well. Most people lazily use a 4-digit pass code. Don’t. These pass codes are really easy to crack. Always use longer passwords that are very difficult to guess. You may also want to use a password on your personal computer.

Know How to Properly Set Passwords

You should know by now not to use “123” or “letmein” as passwords on anything. A strong password is often enough to keep a hacker away. If you want a really strong password, use a website like passwordsgenerator.net to randomly generate passwords. Use a combination of upper and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols to create a strong password. Never, ever reuse old passwords and you should consider all old passwords compromised.

You should change the password for devices, applications, software or any Web service at least every three months. It may be annoying, but it is very necessary. Sites get hacked all the time. Hackers can lay dormant with passwords for a long time, so changing them frequently will keep a hacker from locking you out of your own account. Also, do not save passwords on Word documents in an obvious manner. You could end up like the Sony, where an employee saved company passwords in a Word document titled “passwords,” basically opening the door to hackers.

Enable Automatic Updates

Developers frequently issue updates for software programs and mobile applications that you should install right away. It’s most convenient to allow all the software to update automatically. At least enable update alerts. Remember that all software must be frequently updated, which includes browser extensions. Do not use vulnerable browser extensions like Flash. Delete all outdated software, apps and extensions from your computer, browser or smartphone. A small vulnerability in code is all that’s needed for a hacker to get control of your device.

Make Sure Your Devices Function Fast

If your computer suddenly becomes slow, that should be a cause for concern. Some types of malware can slow down computers. The same goes for smartphones and tablets. You should occasionally clean up your devices by deleting old programs and defragmenting drives to make sure the device functions optimally. If a program or a browser suddenly slows down, be suspicious and try to find out what’s wrong.

Install Antivirus Software

Antivirus software is quite good at nabbing malicious .exe programs. You must have one installed on your computer, smartphone and any other similar handheld device. Users who are serious about malware protection should pay for antivirus software. Pro versions often have phishing protection and malicious URL blocking that free versions lack.

Download Apps Only from App Stores

Smartphone users, avoid downloading programs from anywhere except Google (News - Alert) Play store or the Apple App store. Do not download apps from torrents or otherwise pirated files. These third party provided apps are very vulnerable and may contain altered code that makes hacking easy. When downloading any app, make sure you see a “verified” label next to the name. Savvy hackers sometimes create mirror versions of popular apps for indiscriminating users to click without thinking.

Do Not Click on Links in Emails

Phishing scams are rampant nowadays. Clicking on dubious links on emails is how most people end up victims of hackers. Do not download anything from emails without a virus scan. If someone emails you a PDF, a preview of the file should be viewable from your email client. Do not click on links and go to third party websites to download files. If you get requests for password changes from names you recognize like Facebook (News - Alert) and Google, stop first. Scrutinize the email and make sure it’s legit. Then, do not click on the password link provided. Go to the official website, access your account and then change the password.

Use Encrypted Wireless Networks

The wireless networks you use should meet WPA2 security standards. If not, it’s recommended to connect with WPA and create a strong key. Be very careful when using public Wi-Fi. Experts strongly advise people to use a VPN when accessing any public networks. VPNs can obscure your IP address and encrypt all data being transmitted over the internet.

Physical Safety

Here is what you can do to physically secure electronic gadgets:

Get a Lock

If you are using your personal laptop at the workplace, a public space like a library or when travelling, you may want to consider using an actual lock. Laptop locks are like bicycle locks: they physically secure your computer to a space. Only the person who knows the combination can unlock it. If you have to leave your laptop unattended in a public area, a lock will absolutely prevent it from being physically stolen.

Don’t Keep Your Phone (News - Alert) in the Back Pocket

Most men put their smartphones (if they are small enough) in a pants back pocket. Avoid doing this because it will be very easy for a pickpocket to snatch your device. Backpockets are terribly pickpocket-friendly. When you are travelling by public transport or walking down the street, put your small electronic gadgets in inside pockets, like inside your jacket.

Lock Devices in a Safe at Hotels

It’s never a smart idea to leave phones and computers openly on a table at hotels, even in your room. Whenever you are going out of your hotel room, keep your gadgets locked inside a safe if one is provided. At least lock them in a drawer or put them in the closet. Other people can come into your hotel room and easily snatch smaller gadgets like iPods and smartphones.

Keep an Eye on Mobile Devices

Smartphones, mp3 players and similar devices are really easy to steal. Your gadgets will be very vulnerable to physical theft when travelling, especially in foreign countries. If possible, keep your phone strapped to your wrist. Otherwise, be vigilant and keep an eye on your devices. When you are travelling lock the phone and the apps. If your phone does end up being stolen, you don’t want to make things easy for the thief and leave the screen unlocked.

Enable Tracking

Android (News - Alert), Apple and Windows phones come with remote tracking. Do keep these enabled all the time, unless you are spending a prolonged period at home. Computers do not come with built-in tracking software, so you will have to install a program like Prey Anti-theft to enable tracking. Make sure you know how to use tracking features on your devices. These tools will have Web-based interfaces, which you should take time to familiarize yourself with.

Generally speaking, use your common sense and keep an eye on your devices when outside the home to prevent theft.

In Conclusion

You must treat all your electronic devices as boxes with valuables. In the well connected modern age, it’s easy for a hacker to get access to personal information.

As a safety precaution, learn to back up data as well. Backups are lifesavers when a computer or a smartphone is busted. Having a backup can also make it easy to restore your devices to a previous state in case of a data breach.

Worry equally about physical and software safety of your devices. Keep in mind that you can replace your device if it gets stolen, but you cannot replace your stolen personal information.

The best ways to secure electronic devices are often the easiest. As mentioned above, changing your passwords frequently can thwart and attack just as well as an expensive antivirus program. You may not be able to fully prevent a hacking, but you can take every step to make it very difficult for a criminal to get access to your devices. 




Edited by Alicia Young
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