Even before you install antivirus or anti-malware software, your devices come with tools to help defend your digital garden. Look for the following on your devices:
Security and privacy settings. These days, these are usually well-marked in your control panels and settings. Here are your basic settings on Mac and iOS, Windows, Chromebook, and Android (on Android devices you may also want to look up settings for your brand of device).
Application permissions. Take a look to see whether you are giving apps access to your location, contacts, or other information you might not want every app to have. Here’s how to find those settings on Mac, Windows, Chromebook, Android , and iOS. Do this again from time to time, as new apps may ask for new permissions as you add them. Note that if you turn off permissions for some apps, they may not work properly, or they will ask for them again. This is decision time for you: do you really think this app needs access to your location, microphone, documents, or contacts to do the things you want it to do? If not, think about replacing the app with a similar app that protects your privacy better.
Here’s a bonus article on managing privacy permissions for a whole bunch of Chromebooks, if say for example you’re the laptop administrator for a school.
Password protecting your whole device is an option on most devices nowadays. This is highly recommended, in case your device falls into the wrong hands! Pick an option which requires a long password (here’s my advice on password strength), or consider whether a fingerprint scanner might be your best protection (depending on whether you think someone might force or trick you into unlocking your phone for them). Pattern locks and short PINs are not as strong.
You can also use multi-factor authentication to give your device more protection than a password alone.
Firewalls are also offered by many devices these days. These can block people trying to get into your computer. Generally, turning your firewall on is a good idea. Here’s how to do it on Windows, Mac, and Chromebook.
Controlling connected apps. To provide some services, apps and sites like Twitter, Google, Instagram, and Facebook may make special connections to other apps. When these apps get outdated, they can become security vulnerabilities. Look for the “connected apps” section of their settings using the links above, and review what’s connected; get rid of ones you don’t use anymore.
Finally, an advanced tip: Many devices also now offer to encrypt your entire disk. This can be very strong protection if your device ends up in the wrong hands. However, it can also defend your device against you using it if you forget your password. You could lose access to your entire device. Encrypting your devices may not be as important to you if you don’t take them out of your house much. If you do decide to encrypt, this is definitely a password which should be written down and stored somewhere safe in your house! Here’s how to encrypt your device if it’s Mac, Windows, Chromebook (it’s on by default), iOS, or Android.
For more digital security tips, check out the rest of this site and order a copy of Keep Calm and Log On.