How secure are your digital devices?
December 28, 2014
The first Mac that I used did not have an internal hard drive. I stored all of my files on 3.5 inch floppy disks. As long as I kept my disks put away and out of sight, I didn’t have to worry about someone getting at my data. Of course I didn’t really do much on my computer at that time. If someone had snatched my collection of floppy disks, all they would have found were some papers that I wrote for school, some notes that I wrote in MacWrite, and some doodles that I made in MacPaint. Nothing really private. No one could hack my Mac over the Internet since it wasn’t connected.
Today, my whole life is on my two Macs, and they are always connected to the Internet. I have tax returns, banking records, medical records, photos, music, movies, notes and data about my work, and my customers. A thief or hacker could wreak havoc if they broke into one of my computers, my iPhone, or my iPad. I’m sure that what I’ve just described here is very common. Most of us have a great deal of private data stored on our computers and other devices. How do we protect our data from bad people, or simply keep our data away from the prying eyes of nosey coworkers or family members? Here are some tips.
Passwords are meant to secure our devices, and keep out unauthorized people. If you are not using a password to protect your digital life, or if you’re using a simple easily guessed password, you’re being really stupid. Do we need to have our identities stolen to get us to take passwords seriously? Would you leave a key under your door mat, or hang it over the doorway in plain sight? I hope not. Passwords are for protection. You should not treat them as an inconvenience. When choosing a password, it’s OK to choose a word or phrase that is memorable, but don’t choose anything that is easy to guess. Don’t use your birthday. Don’t use your phone number, your pet’s name, your mom’s maiden name, your kid’s birthday. Don’t use anything that someone who knows you, or who has been stalking you for weeks would know. When creating passwords for my customers, I use a random password generator. I try to create something that will be easy to remember, but totally random. You should do the same. If someone ever hacks into your computer, your iPhone, or tablet you’ll be kicking yourself for not securing your devices with a strong password. All smartphones and tablet computers include a password lock feature. Use it. If you have a device that can use your fingerprint as well as a password, even better. On both my iPhone and iPad, I have turned on a feature that will erase all of my data if someone enters the wrong password more than ten times. Here’s a great website where you can test the strength of your password. If your password can be broken in less than 1000 years, you should change it to something more secure. howsecureismypassword.net
Don’t use automatic login
We all love convenience. It’s nice to power on a computer, and have it immediately take us to the desktop. But is this safe? No. It’s not. If you setup your computer to automatically login each time you boot it up, you are inviting other people to steal your data. After a thief steals your laptop, all he has to do is boot it up. He then has access to your email, your family photos, and your financial data. He knows about all of the websites you visit, and he knows that you have every musical album put out by Michael Bolton. Create a strong password for your computer and get used to using it.
Computers in the home
It’s very common for a home computer to be used by multiple family members. Most of these computers only have a single user account setup. This is very bad. While you may trust your kid not to steal from you, can you trust that he won’t go looking at your private files? Can you trust that he won’t accidentally trash some of your important financial data? Think about the emotional trauma he will have when he finds out that you’re a Michael Bolton fan. You should create a user account for each family member. This will help protect everyone’s data. Parents can use the parental control feature found on Macs and Windows PCs to help protect their children from online predators, Michael Bolton, or deny access to certain websites. This feature has existed for many years, yet most parents fail to use it.
Hard disk encryption
For almost two years, I have used a feature called File Vault on my Macs. File Vault encrypts my entire hard drive with very powerful encryption. If someone steals one of my computers, or if I lose my laptop, no one is going to get into either of them. File Vault will not allow a Mac to boot unless an authorized user’s password is entered. The system will simply shut off if the password is not entered within a minute or so. File Vault also turns on a screen lock feature so that if I am away from my Mac for a certain amount of time, a password is required to resume using my computer. Macs and most newer Windows PCs have this feature built in. There are also several third party encryption products on the market if the included disk encryption feature does not meet your needs. The built in Time Machine backup featured on Macs also offers the ability to encrypt your backup drive. What good is encrypting your hard drive if someone could steal the backup drive and get to your data? If you store sensitive data on your computer, you should use some kind of disk encryption, and your backup solution should also include some kind of security feature to prevent unauthorized access to your data. I use CrashPlan Pro on both of my computers. CrashPlan encrypts my backup data on both the local attached backup drive, and the data that is backed up in the cloud. Since the decryption keys are stored on my computers, not even the people who created CrashPlan can get at my data.
Every office that I visit has a wireless network. Most homes have them too. While we all remember to lock our doors to keep bad people and nosey neighbors out, a lot of people don’t properly secure their wireless networks. Several customers I have visited over the years use their office phone number as their wireless network password. Others use their address, or some other easily guessed password. This is yet another example of people treating passwords like an inconvenience to sidestep or avoid. You should create a strong password for your wireless network. Period.
As Sony is well aware, our digital security is as important as our physical security. Actually, it’s more important. We have our whole lives stored on our computers and other devices yet a lot of people fail to recognize the need for security until it’s too late. After the damage is done, who will you blame?
The image used at the top of this post is the property of Universal Uclick, and was downloaded from dilbert.com.