Getting some new tech for the family? Don’t forget the security basics!

With Christmas right around the corner many families will be getting some new technology. If your new tech involves a smart phone, a computer, a smart TV, new high-speed internet, or anything that connects to a network/internet don’t forget some basic security principles. The last thing you want is your new device being used against you.

Here are my top security recommendations (in no particular order) based on the number of times I’m asked by friends for tips when introducing new technology into their routine. I’ve included my own rankings system for each of these options on a scale of 1 (easy to setup) through 5 (hard to setup) and A (much value provided) through F (little value provided). The solutions provided here are mostly operating system agnostic. Equal security attention should be given to Macintosh and Android devices as Microsoft Windows isn’t the only kid on the block with a runny nose (ref: https://heimdalsecurity.com/blog/most-vulnerable-software-2016/)

  1. Content Filtering – FREE 2/A: OpenDNS Family Shield – OpenDNS Family Shield immediately protects ALL devices in your home or connected to your home network by filtering out sites that use DNS lookups. The protection is set on your home router. Instructions can be found here: https://support.opendns.com/hc/en-us/articles/228006487-FamilyShield-Router-Configuration-Instructions. Specific instructions for a variety of routers can be found here: https://support.opendns.com/hc/en-us/sections/206253627.
  2. Holistic Security – FREE 1/A: Windows Defender Security Center – Getting a new computer with Windows 10? Microsoft has introduced Windows Defender Security Center. It is a one-stop-shop for everything from built-in antivirus to parental controls. Microsoft has made tremendous strides in their ease of use security platform and I am excited to see Windows Defender Security Center engaging the non-technical on security. This is easy to setup and configure because most of the options are baked in to Windows by default.
    More information about WDSC can be found here: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/comprehensive-security.
  3. Antivirus – FREE 3/B: I’m a firm believer in defense in depth and classic anti-virus is still a contender in today’s security suite. I recommend (and to each their own) Avast anti-virus if you’re using a layered AV solution. Their free offerings are still really nice and include many features that may be paid in other offerings. My word of caution is to use the advanced setup and read each option. There are a few sneaky inclusions that you might want to drop. Also remember to register the free license after installing which requires you to jump through some paid offering “hoops”.
    Download information for Avast free: https://www.avast.com/download-thank-you.php?product=FAV-ONLINE&locale=en-ww.
    Anti-virus comparisons: http://chart.av-comparatives.org/awards.php?year=.
  4. Home networks – FREE 2/A: Getting a new wireless router or high-speed Internet for your home? Don’t forget to change the default login password, enable strong encryption for your wireless network, and change your default wireless network name. Running a wireless network named “NETGEAR” with a default admin password of “password” is surely going to get you in hot water when your neighbor starts illegally pirating software on your dime (and covers their tracks). How do you setup and secure a wireless network? Check out these two articles: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/17137/windows-setting-up-wireless-network and https://heimdalsecurity.com/blog/home-wireless-network-security/.
  5. Privacy – FREE 4/A: Devices marketed to make your life “easier” or “tailored to your experience” should be tossed into a lake. Popular “always on” microphone enabled devices are direct links to your private life. Thinking about having an intimate moment with your spouse while leaving the latest voice-enabled smart TV or name-brand “smart” assistant enabled? You might be unknowingly sharing that intimate moment with the manufacturer too. Those privacy policies that many folks accept without reading usually cover this topic and options for disabling. I marked this as difficult because the settings, if not done at initial setup, are usually buried under advanced settings.
    Not sure what I’m talking about? Check this post from the ACLU and check your advanced settings on your smart TV or other device for more information. You can also turn to your popular search engine for help. https://www.aclu.org/blog/privacy-technology/privacy-threat-always-microphones-amazon-echo.
  6. Device Recovery – FREE 2/A: Spending hundreds of dollars on a new tech device is quickly made fresh in our minds when that device is lost or stolen. These days many manufacturers are including options to find your lost or stolen device with ease. The top three manufacturer-included options are here.
    Google/Android: https://myaccount.google.com/intro/find-your-phone?hl=en-US.
    Apple: https://support.apple.com/explore/find-my-iphone-ipad-mac-watch.
    Microsoft: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/11579/microsoft-account-find-and-lock-lost-windows-device.
  7. Extra Login Security – FREE 4/A: Complicated passwords are hard to remember usually resulting in shortcuts being taken to make passwords easy to remember. Recent discussions around password rotation (changing passwords frequently) are coming out stating that frequent changes are actually reducing security. Take those two issues and couple it with the fact that passwords are frequently reused and easy to break and you’ll find that your email, social media, or bank account might be easy to hack. This is where Two Factor Auth (2FA). 2FA adds an easy to use (albeit somewhat complicated to setup) second layer of authentication in the event your password is hacked or discovered. TwoFactorAuth.org has some of the most popular instructions for configure 2FA for your accounts.
    Check out and turn on 2FA! https://twofactorauth.org/

What are your most asked security questions by friends, family, or co-workers? Do you have any additional tips?

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