Many families will be getting new electronic devices over the holidays. A new computer will be found and attacked within minutes of being connected to the Internet. Make sure you get the new device configured as soon as you open it up.

New Computers:

  • Almost all computers will come with at least a trial version of anti-virus software. Make sure you turn on the computer and activate the anti-virus before you connect to the internet. When you do connect, immediately update the anti-virus definitions.
    You also have to decide if you will subscribe to their anti-virus program or will install your own. Whatever choice you make, be sure to do it immediately – long before the trial runs out.
  • The software that comes with the computer will inevitably be out of date by the time you get it. Be sure to immediately check for updates to the software and install all the recommended patches. If the computer has the option to automatically install updates, let it. Updates to Windows are especially important but you should also check for all the major programs on the computer. There should be a help page for each one describing that program’s process for updates and patches.
  • You also need to load one or perhaps even two different anti-spyware programs to protect the computer. Some anti-virus programs now come bundled with anti-spyware capabilities but many don’t – and even the ones that do may not be sufficient to protect your computer. Anti-spyware is still not as mature as anti-virus.
  • Make sure you also have a firewall running and that it is configured to tell you about anything suspicious.
  • Change any default passwords that came with the device. Pick new passwords that will be easy for you to remember but hard for a hacker to break. Whole sentences work well.
  • The computer will probably also come with a lot of trial-versions of other software. Delete anything that you’re unlikely to ever use. The convenience that “maybe you’ll grow into the need” has to be balanced against the risk and effort needed to protect that software from attack. Keep the programs you need and delete the rest.
  • Once you have all that up and running, use the anti-virus and anti-spyware programs to re-run full scans on the computer. That’s a lot of work before you can play the first game but it’s better than having to clean out malicious software later.

Video game machines

  • Most modern video game machines are really full computers. They should have some built-in protections – which is a good thing because they are often much harder to update. Again, change any passwords and disable any remote connectivity that you don’t immediately need. Follow whatever instructions came with the game machine for updating the software on it.
  • Be very cautious before connecting an untrusted game machine up to your network.

Flash drives, MP3 players, cameras, PDAs, cell phones and other electronic accessories

  • For the most part, there’s not much you can (or need to) do to protect these devices. They are simpler devices that are harder to attack. The main danger is that you’ll pick up some malicious software which will infect your computer when you plug it back in. If your computer is properly protected, it should find and fix the problem when you reconnect the device. The worst that can usually happen to the device is that you’ll need to reset it. Resetting will clean out any malicious software that crept in. It will also wipe any data you had on the device, so make backups regularly.
  • If the device has a password, change it immediately.
  • You should encrypt your flash drive (also called a thumb drive or a USB drive) so that no one can read your data when the device falls out of your pocket.

Have a happy holidays.

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