New Year's resolutions are normally a flop.
You promise yourself with genuine determination that 2014 will be the year that you give up smoking, stop eating cheese sandwiches, or get fit by going to the gym twice a week, only to feel ashamed of your lack of willpower by January 17th.
So, I think that it's important that new year's resolutions should be truly achievable or not made at all. If they're too hard, you're just setting yourself up for failure.
So, here are my six simple new year's resolutions that I believe every home computer user could follow for better security and privacy online in the coming 12 months (and beyond).
- Get an anti-virus. Whether you run a Windows PC, an Apple Mac, or an Android smartphone you need an anti-virus, and you need to keep it up to date. Most malware (over 200,000 new examples are seen by security labs every day) is written for Windows, but there are real risks for Mac and Android users too.
The good news for iPhone users is that there's not really a threat as long as your device isn't jailbroken. And even then, at the moment, there's not much risk. Which is good news, seeing as Apple's rules prevent decent anti-virus products being created for the platform.
- Stay patched. New vulnerabilities are found all the time, and some of them are exploited by hackers to steal your personal information or infect your computer with malware. You need to keep your computing devices up to date with security patches, not just for the operating system but also for other software (Adobe, Java, I’m looking at you...) that you might run on those devices.
- Encrypt your hard disk. It's bad enough losing your laptop, or having your desktop computer stolen in a burglary. But it's even worse if whoever ends up with your computer can access all of your private files, emails, photos and movies. Full disk encryption means that no-one will be able to access the data on your hard drive unless they can determine your password. It also may make the eventual disposal of your computer simpler when you upgrade.
- Password security. Stop using the same passwords on multiple websites. Remmber that if hackers manage to steal your password on one site, that could lead to them unlocking your other online accounts if you're using the same key for each. Invest in good password management software to remember your passwords for you, as you’ll never be able to remember remember dozens of different complex, hard-to-crack passwords yourself.
- Social network privacy. Make 2014 the year where you became more serious about what you shared online, and thought more carefully about whether it was appropriate or might lead to difficulties or embarrassment if shared with a wider audience. Check your privacy settings as you can't always trust the social network (yes, Facebook, I'm looking at you in particular...) to have your best interests at heart.
- Backups. Yes, this one is as old as the hills - but it's alarming how many people still don't bother to back up their data, despite it being cheaper and easier than ever before. Automate your backups so you don't have to remember to do what is (admittedly) a rather dull job. You'll thank yourself when disaster strikes and you can easily recover your precious files and priceless family photographs.
So, there you go. It's far from a comprehensive list of what you need to do to stay safe and secure online, but I do believe these are all achievable resolutions for the typical computer user.
Good luck if you decide to adopt them. If you have further recommendations (obvious examples might be to be careful about opening unsolicited email attachments, or to keep yourself informed about new threats) , please feel free to leave a comment.
Let's make 2014 the year when you got more serious about your online security and privacy.