Our devices are essential in our day to day lives. Work, entertainment, communication, and completing everyday tasks like banking are all such things we have come to rely on the internet for. However, this means that lots of sensitive information exists on your devices in some way or form. Protecting this information is essential in 2021, and if you use a laptop, you should seriously think about how to protect yourself and your network from the threat of cyber attacks.
Why laptops have unique security threats
Laptops are smaller, lightweight, and ultimately very portable, which gives them the competitive edge over desktop computers. This allows us to take work with us, as we can boot up our computer wherever there’s Wi-Fi. I take my laptop home with me every day just in case there’s a need to work from home.
Since our laptops go everywhere we do, there are some unique vulnerabilities to think about – theft and using unsecured networks – on top of the common security vulnerabilities found in social engineering and malware. This guide will sound the alarms on these threats and promote best practice for ensuring your laptop and whatever information is on it will stay safe.
What do cyber criminals want?
Cyber criminals are looking for data and information that they can use for their own personal gain. Most of the time, this is for financial purposes. There are other things at stakes, depending on your status or organization you work for, but for most people, your personal information is the most valuable thing on your laptop. The following are things that a cyber criminal could use against you.
- Personal information for blackmail purposes
- Infiltrate any systems that may hold sensitive data, including trade secrets or the information of clients like email addresses.
- Disrupt the operations of an organization.
- Information that can be used for financial fraud or identity fraud.
Laptops are popular due to their portability, which makes it incredibly vulnerable to theft or loss. A person with intents to steal your data could do a lot of damage to you, your family, or in the case of your work laptop being stolen, your company. Even a secured laptop with many of the best practice security features enabled can be enough for an experienced hacker to access your company’s network.
In the case a laptop is stolen, some immediate steps you can take to protect data is to change passwords on any accounts you have signed into on that laptop – prioritizing any email accounts you use. If you have accessed online banking or social networks, these will need to have the passwords changed, as well as monitored for any suspicious activity.
to secure your laptop’s data from prospective thieves, we have some steps to take. If a data breach is your biggest concern when it comes to laptop security, here are seven methods to prevent the impact of the data breach.
- System-wide Encryption – Encryption is now standard on operating systems including Windows and macOS. These can be easily accessible in your settings. However, for even more protection, you can look to third-party encryption tools like VeraCrypt – an open-source encryption tool available for both Windows and Mac.
- App-specific Encryption – Say, you have a Word file, Excel document, or another file in the Microsoft Office ecosystem, with industry secrets, personal data, or that awful fan fic you have been working on that you cannot have it fall into the wrong hands. Well, you’re in luck! Microsoft Office has built in encryption with a password of your choice to keep data safe if your laptop fell into the wrong hands – but be careful, if you lose that password, you could lose that file forever. Other applications are starting to offer encryption to protect information.
- Laptop Tracking & “Find My Laptop” – Should you find yourself having lost your laptop, or suspecting it had been stolen, you will be thankful for “Find my device” or “Find my Mac” for Windows and Mac respectively. These programs can be used to locate a lost device, remotely lock these devices, and in the case of the “Find my Mac” option Apple provides, allows you to clear any information on the lost Mac, which is ideal if you have a reliable back up and suspect your laptop has fallen into the wrong hands. Additionally, you can utilize 3rd party software from Absolute or Prey for these tasks.
Public networks are less trustworthy than your own network because you do not know who set up the network, or who may be on the network. Whether you are using Starbucks WiFi or a sketchy network named something like “LAN of the FREE” (which we recommend you DO NOT DO), here are some best practices you should keep in mind when using public networks.
- Use HTTPS – HTTPS is a more secure, encrypted version of the HTTP connection that you should try to use as much as possible wherever you browse the internet, but especially when you are on a public network. Almost all sites support HTTPS, but some might not something automatically use this protocol right from the start. We suggest downloading the plug-in HTTPS everywhere for these purposes, which automatically connects you to the encrypted version of each site.
- Use a VPN – A VPN lets you run your connection through an encrypted network, making information leaving and entering your laptop much more secure than it otherwise would be. If you are looking for a VPN that suits your needs, this guide is an unbiased look into some of the most trustworthy and private VPNs available.
- Be Smart – If you do use public Wi-Fi, we advise against accessing personal data, or filling out information, like you would need to when shopping online or doing online banking. You should turn off any features that allow for file sharing, like AirDrop.
Anti-Virus software –
Malware is a well-known computer threat that everyone should be aware of, if not familiar with. Malware is short for “malicious software,” and seeks to invade computers and computer systems, and steal, alter and delete user information for the hacker’s personal gain. There are many types of Malware around, including but is not limited to, trojans, ransomware, adware, spyware, and many other common computer viruses. Some software to defend against malware include:
Microsoft Defender is a solid free anti-malware component that comes installed on Windows 10 and is also available on other Operating systems including Mac. If you are smart about what sites you visit and what you download, it should be all you need. Other alternatives like Kapersky Security Cloud and BitDefender Free edition are solid, free anti-virus that should provide enough protection. One additional program that can bolster your security even more is uBlockOrigin, which isn’t an anti-virus per se, but a “wide-spectrum content blocker,” that can block ads, scripts, 3rd party servers and more. uBlockOrigin is an open-source software that offers a wide range of filters you can choose to apply or not.
Ensure you have a firewall on – you will likely have a Firewall automatically included on your OS, and also likely on your router too. In layman’s terms, a firewall is a filter that can restrict what can and cannot pass a network boundary, like the point where your Internet Service Provider’s network meets the open internet, or where your ISP’s network connects to your devices. A firewall can block IP addresses, ports, or even all incoming connections from inside the firewall, stopping malicious objects making its way into your network.
Avoid Cyberthreats –
Cyber threats can be avoided, if you know what to watch out for and what to avoid. The most common way malware finds it way onto your computer is by Internet and email – including hacked websites, a malicious ad (even found on legitimate sites), infected files, malicious emails, and more.
- Passwords & 2-Factor Authentication – Do not use the same passwords and try to change passwords regularly. Especially when information is on the line. You should keep varied passwords and organize these passwords using a password manager. On top of your passwords, you should use two-factor authentication whenever you can. Two-factor authentication means you need more than just a password to access your information. Often, this two-factor authentication can be a second code that can be sent to your mobile device. This makes it harder for hackers who have your password to access your information, making your information safer. Yes, this means it will take slightly longer to access your accounts, but it is worth it anytime sensitive information is involved.
- Keep Updating – Updates exist for a reason. The latest security updates will potentially address any security vulnerabilities that may have appeared since the last update. If possible, enable automatic security updates wherever you can.
- Practice good computer practices – Do not visit unknown websites, clicking unknown links, download unknown software, or share information with untrustworthy sources. Phishing scams and social engineering ploys are by far the most common scams that hackers can use to steal data – or worse.
How to avoid these scams?
First of all, keep your wits about you, and be vigilant. Even if an email is from a legit source, that source could be compromised. Unsure? You can always talk to the sender personally via phone, using the readily available phone number of the company or person you are talking to – without giving your phone number out via email. This way you can check out the source in more detail to verify if the information is correct. Look out for the following.
- Be suspicious of any unsolicited messages.
- Look out for legitimate email headers – which should always have the company’s domain after the “@” and be spelled correctly.
- Watch out for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.
- Look for professional language, that will not be pushy or urgent.
- Requests money transfers or donations, sending personal information or files, or downloading software, attachments, or other files.
- Don’t download files linked in emails from untrustworthy sources.
- Double check any links that are included – WITHOUT clicking on the link.