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Why device security should be a priority on your Christmas list

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When it comes to Christmas wish lists and gifts wrapped under the tree, internet-connected devices are increasingly popular picks. From smartphones to netbooks, gaming PCs to the latest tablets, just about every brand, and recent model will be requested during the festive season this year. But the likelihood is, there’s an important detail missing.

Device security isn’t fun. It isn’t exciting. It isn’t what everyone’s talking about over lunch or a cup of coffee. But without good security, a brand new laptop could be rendered useless in no time by malware and adware. Around the world there were an estimated 978 million cybercrime victims in 2017, ultimately resulting in more than $170billion being stolen from ordinary people through tactics like hacking, phishing, ransomware and online fraud.

For your new devices, security add-ons should be just as essential as bumper cases and screen protectors. Complacency could cost the average victim hundreds of pounds, along with days spent trying to deal with whatever security issue has occurred.

So, what’s going on that makes security so important, and what are the easiest ways to stay safe without putting in a lot of effort? Here are a few key points to remember when switching on a new smart device for the first time.

Key threats

Man-In-The-Middle attacks

A Man-In-The-Middle attack is a name for any cyber attack where a third party gets between you and whatever you’re doing online. It could be that they’re reading or sending emails within your account, spying on your online banking or watching as you type in your payment details to buy something from an online store.

As well as being able to see the data you’re sending and receiving, a MITM can actually edit that data as well. To you, nothing will look any different. But to the sites you’re browsing, it could be the difference between transferring money to a friend and transferring it to an unseen hacker.

Malware and ransomware

Considered by some to be today’s number one security threat, ransomware is a type of malicious software specifically designed to lock you out of your device or files within it, demanding a cash fee in exchange for returning your access.

There are a whole range of different types of malware outside of ransomware – some which come in the form of fake email attachments for you to download, others disguised as legitimate App Store apps. Their purposes range from installing endless ad pop-ups on your device to stealing personal data and corrupting files. Understandably, malware in emails, apps, and even text messages is a serious threat to watch out for.

Phishing scams

Phishing is probably the best-known online security threat. The term refers to attempts to trick people into sending money or personal data, or into downloading malware, over email or via a fake website.

Phishing emails can look near-identical to those you might receive from your bank, PayPal or a parcel delivery service. They often mimic emails from Apple or Google in order to gain access to payment details.

There are a host of other security threats that are worth getting familiar with, but these three are some of the most common and the most effective. When it comes to protecting yourself and your new device against cybercriminals, there are two main products to add to your list.

Security solutions

A comprehensive antivirus

If you’re lucky enough to receive a new smart device this year but aren’t also furnished with an antivirus package, invest in one right away. A good antivirus setup, complete with a firewall and email scanner, will protect you against a raft of everyday security threats.

In an ideal world, all devices would come with antivirus pre-installed – but in many cases, even those that do come with only the very basics. While Apple devices are generally less in need of antivirus than other devices, even iPhones, iPads and Macs have been shown to need additional defence against malware.

Look for antivirus software that includes a firewall, to prevent outsiders from accessing your device, and email scanning functionality to flag and quarantine suspicious incoming mail. App scanners will flag any downloads that could be malicious, but for additional security, antivirus that includes a behaviour monitor to notify you of suspicious activity after installation is also a good investment.

A VPN subscription

If your antivirus doesn’t include a VPN functionality, adding a VPN service is another effortless way to stay safe online. A Virtual Private Network secures your internet traffic in a tunnel of encryption so that if hackers try to read the information you’re uploading and downloading, they won’t be able to. Instead of seeing things like bank details and email contents, they’d only be able to see a nonsensical series of letters and numbers – the encryption keys your data is scrambled into.

VPNs usually offer an app version so that they can be used on all your devices, and they’re a great way to protect yourself against Man-In-The-Middle attacks. While they don’t scan for viruses or flag suspect emails, a VPN is the equivalent of putting your details in a locked box before passing them to somebody else, instead of shouting them across the street. It only takes a split second to download someone’s unprotected data online, but adding a layer of encryption will stop you from being an easy target.

Realistically, any cybersecurity is better than no security at all, but it’s wise to do whatever you can to protect a new device. With a combination of security that protects your device from dubious downloads and which protects you while using that device to browse the web, you’ll go a long way to fending off would-be hackers and keeping things working as good as new.

Have any thoughts on this? Let us know down in the comments. 

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Chris has been blogging since the early days of the internet. He primarily focuses on topics related to tech, business, marketing, and pretty much anything else that revolves around tech. When he's not writing, you can find him noodling around on a guitar or cooking up a mean storm for friends and family.

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