’TIS the season to get lots of new gadgets, whether it’s that new Star Wars Battle Drone, Google Home, a new baby monitor, or, if you were really good this year, a new laptop.
The thing is, though, that once we have all them, the temptation is to set them up as quickly as possible so we can start enjoying them immediately.
The problem with that is that we’re forgetting these devices are easily hackable and that some people are Grinches who want to steal your credit card and other personal details.
But there are some easy steps to make sure you stay safe while hitting the Boxing Day sales online and asking your smart assistant what an aardvark sounds like.
The No.1 thing is to change your Wi-Fi password. If your router is still set on the default settings you received it with, change them right now and then preferably keep changing them every three to six months.
Come up with an amusing network name like The LAN Before Time, Girls Gone Wireless or Tell My Wi-Fi I Love Her. Then pack that password with upper and lower-case letters, with a few numbers thrown in.
You don’t need to do something silly like gH60-KwSd-7UxD, because it’s hard to remember and surprisingly easy for a computer to guess.
But also don’t go for something like Password123.
You’re better than that.
A password should have a meaning to you but be hard for someone to guess. The name and track number of your favourite song from when you were a teenager is good. Just something you care about enough to remember, but aren’t so attached to that you would have spoken about it publicly online.
And, for the love of Zeus, if you’re going to use the personal hotspot on your phone for internet access at any time, change the default name of the network. Once connected to that network, your laptop will forever look to connect to that network again. Using the default name makes it easy for nefarious strangers to create password-free networks with the same name and browse all the things on your computer you haven’t secured properly.
While you’re changing default settings, do that for literally every connected device you own and like/put sensitive information on. Think about your smart assistant/baby monitor/pet monitor. Then, think about all the things you say and do near those things. We’ve given up a lot of privacy to be able to turn the lights on and off without getting up and be able to yell at the dog to get off the couch while we’re at work. It would be awful if someone else took control of those devices and was able to spy on you at all times.
Even your robot vacuum cleaner has made and saved a map of your home, which is useful for it to not crash into your furniture, but potentially more useful for a potential burglar.
This last and biggest point is the one we’re all guilty of ignoring. Before writing this column, I told my laptop to do its software update later. I have done that every time it’s asked for a couple of weeks now. That is bad.
Each new software update includes security improvements.
As much as you don’t want to be hacked or get a virus, the company that made your device wants to see headlines about it even less, so they’re keen to make sure they plug any holes in the system before someone exploits them.
Unfortunately, that goes for every device you own, including the ones you wouldn’t think of like your Fitbit, smart watch, Bluetooth headphones, every connected toy Santa is going to bring your child, game consoles and so on. If it connects to the internet or connects to a device that connects to the internet, you need to keep up with the updates.
According to a recent survey funded by McAfee, only 30 per cent of people think their secondary and tertiary devices need securing, and only 37 per cent do the software updates.
So, this Christmas Eve, remember that not only do the best gift-givers remember the batteries, but they also perform the software updates.