Following on from my attempts to answer friends’ questions this blog takes a final look at what you need to know, in the form of security. I am not a security expert and talk broadly based on my decades of experience which in more recent years has largely involved programming on ‘safe’ systems like Linux and OSX while frequently being asked to fix people’s PC’s because they were a bit too keen on downloading free programs or finding some rude pictures they had heard were out there. The first rule of creating a trap is understanding what bait will work, of course. I should also add, no one pays me to have a particular opinion so recommendations are made with impartiality. if I am wrong, please comment and add to the pot – this is just based on my experiences and yours might be quite different.
Keeping your connected device safe
For the purposes of this final blog in my pre-Christmas series of helpfulness I am going to address a question that I get asked occasionally but is one thing I wish people would worry more about, rather than less. I am often heard telling people not to worry and to just dive in, where technology is concerned, after all, it’s getting easier and easier to do incredible things.
However, if your device can do lots, and perhaps contains internet history and passwords that make quick access to your bank account (for example) then keeping it out of the virtual hands of the malicious is of the utmost importance.
There was an old phrase, often said with hubris by tech support types about their customers, or more entertainingly when an otherwise expert makes a schoolboy error, and that is: PEBKAC which is short for the diagnoses ‘Problem exists between keyboard and chair’. This is true of the biggest security risk facing you and your data: You!
People have often willingly allowed malicious code to run on their computers having been promised improved performance and free security software. They have also filled in forms which look real, providing enough information to steal their identity or even their cash (on a so called ‘phishing site’).
If you have fantastically clever security but still fall for the offer of a free iPad and click a link which runs a script on a webpage, you could potentially have handed everything over to hackers, be that your data or the use of your hardware to make further attacks (during which, you will be paying for the bandwidth).
So, the first important bit of advice is this:
- Only install applications from trusted developers
- If a program says it will speed your computer up, it will probably break it
- If you get an email with a link, make sure the link goes where you would expect (youtube.com not yoootube.com for example, which could be a ‘phishing’ site).
- If you get an email asking you to click a link and confirm your details (sometimes cheekily because they say they’ve been compromised) – don’t! This is more obvious when it is from a bank you don’t have an account with, or a badly written email that is not at all convincing, but easy to fall for when all the proverbial ducks are in a row.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
- Update everything regularly – developers quickly patch flaws as they are found, but if you don’t install the patch, you are at risk
- Finally, it’s harsh, but the security people put it bluntly; if you run anything on your computer/device that you do not know the source of for certain, it isn’t your computer/device any more.
In the spirit of the original question (what tablet should I buy this Christmas) there are considerations which you can make early on, before buying. The most secure tablets are iOS devices by Apple. This isn’t debatable, it is simple a result of the closed platform which Apple operated. Unless an ‘app’ meets a whole host of rigorous criteria it cannot be listed on the App store, even if its free. Android is a pretty safe platform, but the Play store is an open playing field so there is some risk. If in doubt – don’t download it. The ‘real world’ sense is that there is little to worry about on all (non-windows) tablet devices. In all cases observing the common-sense rules will serve you well.
In the land of computers, there are many types of ‘malware’ viruses and hijacks. Apple and Linux operating systems are considerably safer although one could argue that the sense of invulnerability can leave users wide open. The best protection is to act intelligently and to have a solid level of baseline protection.
For Windows PC’s and tablets, my personal favourite and firm recommendation for PC security Software is Eset Smart Security. Unlike some others, it doesn’t slow PC’s down and speaking personally has a 100% track record at keeping my father’s computer virus and malware free where free, cheap and even similarly price main brains security suites have failed in the past. On Mac’s there are virus checkers, but these predominantly focus on viruses that might not affect you but could be passed on to a windows user, possibly in your own home.
The most credible threat I have heard about in recent times is CryptoLocker. CryptoLocker is malware which can run on Windows machines and what it does is encrypts your data and offers to sell you the key for a price, for example $300, within a short period, such as 2 days, or they throw away your key and your data, whether thats all your family photos, college work, or whatever.
Enthusiastic police in the US have traced the servers and closed them down. They always have more available, and what the police essentially did was remove your opportunity to get your data back for your $300! Elsewhere in the US police force, Massachusetts police were forced to pay a ‘2 bitcoin’ ransom for their data – a sum which equates to more than $2000 at todays exchange rates.
This leads me seamlessly to the final leg of personal protection. Backup EVERYTHING. In years gone by, when I was much younger, I heard an old lady say that if she had a house fire she would run back in to rescue her budgie and her photo’s. Until then I had not really considered the value of pictures.
Now, as a parent who struggles to remember how cute his expensive and challenging tweenage daughter once was, I see the value. Even low resolution videos taken on my first camera phone are precious. You should back up in more than one place (i.e. on more than one physical device) and in more than one location. Cloud solutions are plentiful now, so you haven’t got this covered, do so very soon. Even if you have 10 drives with everything duplicated, you would be in trouble if the room they were in went up in flames.
My final personal recommendation is for Flickr pro. This relatively inexpensive service allows you to upload all of your images to unlimited protected storage, which you can, but don’t have to use to share images with your family or friends. So many services are available in this field now though, it is certainly worth shopping around.
Next up: Normal service will resume and the ThoughtsOfEd will return to being that.