Technology

Your summer 2012 security checklist

Patrick Stafford /

I knew it would happen eventually. Last weekend while tinkering around on my computer, I noticed I had been automatically logged out of my Facebook Messenger app which sits one side of my desktop screen.

Curious, I headed to the Facebook site to log in and see what was up, but an email notification stopped me – someone was trying to gain access to my account.

Thankfully Facebook’s security protocols stopped whoever it was from gaining access – the site automatically sends a notification when you try to log in from a new device. (They were in Chicago, funnily enough). I convinced Facebook I was who I said I was, set up a new, stronger password, and I was set.

Now, everything turned out fine for me, and that’s probably because I keep two different passwords for my Facebook and email accounts. But there are plenty of people who don’t have security protocols set up for their various online accounts – they’re swimming with the sharks, and without a cage.

It’s important to note that hacks will tend to rise at this time of year. After all, you’re away from your computer and with family or friends, so you’re not going to notice the fact someone has stolen your credit card number, or replaced your password.

So before you step away from your desk this holiday season, let’s go over some simple security protocols. Once you’ve done these, you can enjoy the holidays knowing full well your private data is secure.

Change your passwords – all of them

Yes, change all of them. Your work email, your personal email, your Facebook, your Twitter and all your social networks. Change every single one, and don’t use the same one for each account.

“But that will take so much time,” I hear you arguing. Not as much time as you think. And it’s extremely important, too – one of the key ways someone can bring down your online persona is by getting just one password. You need to isolate your online accounts, so that if one gets hacked, the others are safe.

Make your banking password more complicated than the others. If you simply have too many, check out a password manager like 1Password to do it for you.

Put a PIN code on your smartphone

Earlier this year while speaking to the head of an SME about mobile technology, he said something strange:

“I can’t be bothered putting a PIN on my phone.”

I was shocked. This CEO had the contact details of some pretty powerful people in his phone, not to mention passwords to his own banking details and who knows what else to do with this company.

Set up a PIN on your phone. It takes two seconds to unlock it every time, and you’re adding another layer of security that’ll help you if you lose your gadgets.

And speaking of which…

Set up location features on your gadgets

If you’re an Apple owner, then what I’m talking about are things like Find My iPhone and Find My iPad. You can set up these features on your MacBooks as well. If they’re lost, you can track them and send messages to whoever has them.

Avoid free WiFi like the plague

When you’re out at the shops you may want to log in to some free WiFi. Do not do this under any circumstances unless you can absolutely trust the source.

Shops like McDonald’s and Starbucks offer good, free WiFi services, but you need to go and ask the people running the store what the name of the account is. These places are hotspots for hackers, and they’ll set up their own WiFi networks using titles like “Free Public WiFi” to lure you in and hack into your smartphone or laptop. Be smart and ask before connecting.

Back-up, back-up, back-up

There’s a reason I’ve said it three times – you should keep three copies of your most essential data.

Your main computer should be the first, that’s where you’ll be gaining access to photos and documents most of the time. The second should be something like a portable hard drive or a Time Machine, somewhere stored in your house but away from the main device.

The third should be something outside of your home entirely, in a data centre. You can get cheap back-up plans like Carbonite or Crashplan, and they update all the files on your computer as you go, so you only have to do one big batch upgrade.

There’s really no reason not to back-up your data, especially when it’s so cheap. Remember, if your computer is sucked dry with malware, and you can’t seem to boot up or do any basic tasks, you’ll be glad you kept that data elsewhere. It takes the whole hassle out of starting again.

You can follow Patrick Stafford on Twitter @pdstafford.

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Patrick Stafford

Patrick Stafford is a freelance journalist and a former deputy editor of SmartCompany.

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