The first step is to protect your technical devices with a few simple preventative measures. If you are unfortunate enough to have suffered an attack in the past, whether you downloaded a virus or fell for a phishing scam and divulged information that you shouldn’t have, you may have felt the shame, annoyance, and anger that are common responses.
It’s annoying that we should have to put up with those who are determined to interfere in and disrupt our lives in the name of criminality or even misguided fun. Just as opportunistic thieves and mindless vandals exist in the real world, they’re unfortunately prevalent online too. The best we can do is to put measures in place to discourage them from interfering with us.
Here are a few simple ways to make your devices less appealing or susceptible to the bad guys.
Accept and install updates
Manufacturers of hardware and software are proactive about continuously testing their products to find vulnerabilities that could be exploited. As products develop, they are tested too, checking that new features don’t introduce new vulnerabilities.
As and when the tests discover issues, these are published online so that customers are made aware. Vendors then create and distribute updates and patches to all registered customers, prompting them to download and update them so as to close the vulnerabilities.
The same process applies to corporations as it does for home users — you may recognise these as the software updates that your Apple device or PC periodically prompts you to download and install. It can seem like a hassle at the time, and many put these off day after day.
It’s important to recognise that prospective hackers have equal access to the published vulnerabilities as consumers. They use this insight to develop exploits that can then be used on devices they might find that haven’t been patched.
My guidance is simple:
- Register your software and hardware when you purchase it.
- When vendors release patches or software updates, accept and install them immediately.
Don’t leave known vulnerabilities exposed on your devices — it makes life easy for those who would love to exploit an easy way in.
Use basic protection
We know that feeling of excitement, unboxing a new device — whether a phone, laptop, tablet, or TV for the first time. We want to start enjoying it straight away. We choose a wallpaper for it, buy some new accessories, and then dive straight in to test its new features.
Installing the basic utilities that should (but usually don’t) come pre-installed can seem like an unnecessary distraction.
Tech companies are coming around to the merits of pre-installing certain protection into their devices. Microsoft Defender now comes as part of Windows for example, as do various native security features on Mac devices.
Recommended best practice is to install some basic protection for yourself as one of the first tasks once you’ve unboxed and admired your new device. Here are the basics:
Antivirus protection has long been acknowledged as an essential for Windows PCs; Mac users have historically tended not to bother with it. Everyone should install antivirus software — I use Bitdefender.
Many leading vendors offer a free version that is usually stripped back of some core functionality but which offers the majority of essential protection and receives the same virus definition updates. You can find a list of reputable vendors for Macs and PCs here, with both free and premium options included.
Some antivirus software also includes a firewall — another layer of protection between your device and the internet (and the bad guys lurking within it). Many home routers also include firewall software within them too.
I recommend installing malware protection as well as antivirus — I use Malwarebytes which offers both free and premium versions. It detects, prevents, and removes malware, which are malicious software programs intended to cause harm.
I first installed this on my Mac on the advice of Apple Support and I now recommend it to everyone else too. It offers a little more peace of mind and protection against a wider range of online threats that might otherwise slip into your device unnoticed.
Virtual Private Network (VPN)
One final technology to consider is a personal VPN to enable a level of privacy and data protection while online. Corporations use VPNs to allow their employees to connect to their networks securely when working remotely.
A VPN anonymises and secures network traffic, protecting the data transmitted from your home device to the outside world — Nord VPN and Express VPN are two popular suppliers. Once you’ve connected to the internet via a VPN, all traffic is routed securely to the internet, wrapping your data in a protective layer and offering a degree of anonymity, so that others can’t “eavesdrop” on what’s being transmitted to and from your device.