Identity Theft

How to Protect Your New Gadgets From Malware

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After Santa delivers the latest and greatest electronic gizmos, expect scammers to try for their own leave-behind — malware that can lead to identity theft. Recent research indicates that mobile malware threats are on the rise, with a 26% jump between July and September compared to the previous three months.
So while lucky recipients may be eager to begin using their new booty by immediately loading files, photos and other personal information, it’s wise to secure new devices the moment you begin to set them up. Here’s how.

Personal Computers, Tablets and Netbooks

At the very least, get free security software from reputable vendors such as AVG, Avast, BitDefender or MalwareBytes. But for even better protection, opt for more comprehensive security products that may be labeled as “total,” “platinum” or “360”.

Look for products that include real-time anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-phishing and safe search capabilities, ideally with a two-way firewall. Additional levels of protection come with features such as anti-spam, parental controls, wireless network protection and anti-theft protection that encrypt sensitive financial documents. Such products usually retail for about $100 or more, but may be discounted after the Christmas rush. But first check with your Internet provider; some offer free suite security for customers.

Macs, iPads & iPhones

The ever-growing popularity of these Apple products makes them an enticing target for malicious attacks. Rather than relying solely on built-in protection in the OS X operating system, consider additional security software, from various vendors, that is developed specifically for Apple products. At the least, use free Mac-specific protection software from Sophos or Avast.

Many experts recommend Firefox as a safer browser than the default Safari. Also consider Apple’s iCloud service, which provides tools for syncing, backing up and securing data.

Smartphones

Overall, smartphone owners are 30% more likely than non-users to be victims of identity theft, according to Javelin Strategy and Research. One reason: Some 80% of devices remain unprotected from malware attacks.

So, investigate security software recommended by your carrier or phone manufacturer. Free products such as Lookout Mobile Security are available for Android and iPhones; in fact, AT&T now pre-loads it on its handsets.

Other stay-safe tips — for every smartphone — include turning off or disabling unnecessary features to minimize the attack surface of your device, using encryption features to protect stored data in case of loss or theft, and locking the screen with a password, which is done by only one in three smartphone users. Be sure to use a password that isn’t your birthdate or birth year, 1234, 0000, 2580 (a top-to-bottom keypad sequence), 1111, 5555, 5683 (which spells “love”), 0852 (a bottom-to-top sequence), 2222, 1212 and 1998. They are most easily hacked.

Before installing apps, read their reviews and then buy only from well-known vendors. Always read the permissions before downloading apps and avoid those that want out-of-character permission to make phone calls, connect to the Internet or reveal your identity and location. And, of course, treat your smartphone as you would any computer. That means not opening questionable links in emails or text messages.

Gaming Devices

Wii, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 are now Internet-connected and vulnerable to many of the same threats as computers. So make reliable backup copies of games, connect devices to only secure Wi-Fi networks and don’t store personal information on them. If the young’uns are using multiplayer games to engage with strangers over the Internet, consider activity-monitoring tools.

Image: iStock

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