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Tips for Securing Your Devices

You use your devices to store and process sensitive information every day, which makes securing your devices an important part of securing both your identity and your data. It also makes your system more stable, which leads to better performance and less time troubleshooting problems.

The Internet of Things (IoT) continues to expand as more of our “things” become connected. The IoT can include watches, televisions, appliances, smart speakers, security systems, vehicles, and much more. Networked “smart homes” are common.

Make sure all connected devices have security precautions. Understand what information your devices collect and how that information is managed and used. To ensure that a new device is an asset, rather than a liability, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Encrypt your devices. 

Encryption ensures that data on a lost or stolen device cannot be accessed by an unauthorized individual. Most desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones can be encrypted.

Configure automatic updates for operating systems and applications.

Software companies regularly release updates to improve the performance and security of their applications. Run updates automatically, where possible, on all of your devices, and restart your devices in a timely manner when prompted to complete the updates.

Install antivirus software.

Northwestern recommends downloading antivirus software to all students, faculty, and staff. Many antivirus apps are available through app stores on tablets and smartphones.

Install ad-blocking software and adjust your browser security settings.

Secure your browser to prevent malicious software from being accidentally downloaded. Hackers sometimes insert malware into ads that run automatically on page load or create pop-ups that pretend to be your antivirus software or other applications on your system waiting for updates.

Use PINs/passwords/fingerprints/face recognition to access devices.

Use PINs, passwords, and fingerprints to access devices, enable remote-wipe features, and configure automatic screen timeouts. Some devices also have face recognition technology. This information is especially true for portable devices, which are easily lost or stolen.

Smartphones and tablets are frequently logged into multiple accounts, such as email and social media, that could provide unauthorized individuals with access to personal information.

Change default passwords on networked devices.

Networked devices, such as routers and printers, frequently come with special interfaces that are intended to provide easy configuration but do not force you to change the default password during setup. This situation may make your device accessible on the internet at a predictable address using a predictable password and can allow hackers to capture traffic or attack other devices on your network.

Disable unnecessary services on networked devices, such as routers and printers.

FTP, Telnet, and other services can provide vulnerabilities for hackers to attack, especially if the device is not updated frequently. Disable services you are not using to reduce the number of windows into your system.

Do not open unexpected links or attachments in emails.

Phishing emails commonly attempt to entice or alarm you to get you to install malware accidentally—fake invoices and shipping notifications are especially common, particularly around the holiday season. Word document attachments may prompt you to enable macros to view them. If you were not expecting to receive an attachment, contact the sender directly to verify its credibility. How to recognize a phishing attempt.

Be careful about what you visit on the web.

Web pages automatically load text and multimedia content when you visit them, and some of this content can be malicious.

The more you stray away from widely publicized, well-known sites, the riskier visiting the sites can be. Long, complex URLs are frequently a sign that you are off the beaten path.

Be careful what you download.

Only install reviewed applications from reputable sources. Do not download updates or applications while on networks that are shared with strangers (e.g., airports, cafes, hotels, etc.) unless you are using a VPN. Other individuals on the network may be able to masquerade as an access point and send malware to your device in place of updates.

Do not engage in illegal file-sharing.

Peer-to-peer file sharing usually involves downloading unknown content from unknown devices and trusting that the content is what it claims to be.

Accidentally torrenting malware is especially likely when you cannot find content from a reputable source, as is the case with illegally distributed copyrighted materials.