We carry our laptop with us everywhere, and we store most of our private information on this device. Therefore lost or stolen laptops put our personal and confidential business data at risk. With more security featured being added to corporate networks, hackers find such systems relatively difficult to breach. So home computers and laptops have become a more attractive target for intruders.McAfee labs have already pointed out this fact in its 2016 Threats Predictions report.
Therefore it is quite essential to secure our laptops against hackers. In this tutorial, I will explain in detail about 16 simple tips to super secure our laptops. You don’t need to be a computer geek to implement these security features. Now let us see each of these steps in detail
Tip #1- Create a Windows login password
The most basic step for securing our laptop against unauthorized access is to set a login password. The password should be difficult to guess and hence we should avoid using common dictionary words or personal information like our birthday. For setting/changing our password press the Windows key and search for the term “password” and click the Sign-in options link.
Here we have the option to change our windows password.
Tip #2- Use a screen saver
A screen saver is a basic level of security against unauthorized system access. For enabling screen saver press the Windows key on our laptop and start searching for “screen saver“. Click on “Change Screen Saver” option.
On this settings screen select a screen saver and check the checkbox “On resume, display logon screen“.
This will ensure that once the computer is back to active the user is prompted with a password login screen.
Tip #3- Encrypt your hard drive with BitLocker
Encryption is the process of encoding the information on our storage media so that it becomes inaccessible without the password. Windows operating system comes pre-equipped with a tool known as BitLocker that enables us to encrypt our hard disk in few simple steps. Only the following versions of Windows support BitLocker encryption
- Pro, Enterprise, and Education editions of Windows 10
- Pro and Enterprise editions of Windows 8 and 8.1
- Ultimate and Enterprise editions of Windows 7 and Windows Vista
We can follow the below steps to enable BitLocker encryption.
Step1: Right click on the partition we want to encrypt. A menu with “Turn on BitLocker” will open up.
Step2: In this step, we have to select the method for unlocking the drive. Use a strong password with both uppercase, lowercase characters, and numbers.
Step3: Now we have to choose whether we need to encrypt the entire drive or the used space. For already used computers choose the second option to encrypt the entire drive.
Step4: Now we have to save the recovery key. This is necessary to regain access to our drive in case we lose the password. It is better to save it to an external USB flash drive.
Step5: Now continue the process to begin encryption. This might take a few minutes depending on the size of the drive.
Step6: Once the encryption is complete restart the system. Now if we go to the encrypted partition we can see a lock icon over the drive. Double click on the partition and a popup with the option to enter the password will appear.
After entering the correct password click the Unlock button to open the drive. So without the password or recovery key, it becomes impossible to access the encrypted information on our drive.
Tip #4- Add a privacy screen
We may be very familiar with the term hacking where others steal our information through phishing, spyware or malware. Visual hacking is another threat where the person sitting next to us steals our on-screen information without our knowledge. A screen privacy filter is an easy step we can take towards strengthening our security measures and keeping our confidential information out of sight from snooping eyes. The working of this filter is similar to the vertical blinds in our home where the viewing is limited only to a certain angle.
The privacy filter is coated with a polarized material which basically acts as an optical filter to block out the light from all angles except the direct view from the front of the screen. There is an added advantage to using screen filters. These filters also block out the light reflected from the screen thus providing us with a soothing experience for our eyes. The 3M Gold Privacy Filter is one of the best that is currently available.
Tip #5- Add a webcam cover
Malware infection of our laptops can occur in different ways such as through apps, software download or email attachments. There are malware capable of operating our webcam remotely. These tools may even send our pictures and videos over the network to their servers thus compromising our privacy. Most of the laptops have an LED linked to the webcam which blinks once the webcam is functioning. But malware are even capable of turning this LED off and operate the webcam discretely. Therefore it is advisable to use a physical cover for our webcam.
Even Mark Zuckerberg is using this simple technique to keep his face away from the hands of hackers and malicious malware. These webcam covers are available for few bucks at Amazon.
Tip #6- Use a VPN
A virtual private network(VPN) is an encrypted connection from our device to the network over the internet. In simple terms, a VPN service helps us to browse the web safely and anonymously by routing our connection through their servers. So the actual interaction happens between the VPN server and the internet thus saving our IP address from being exposed. The connection between our computer and VPN server is encrypted so that even our Internet Service Provider is unable to read the raw data.
A VPN is a must if our job involves working with confidential information such as credit card statements, legal documents, medical documents, etc. The use of VPN is not making us completely anonymous on the web. Government law enforcement agencies can serve notices to the VPN providers to disclose information about users. Again the scope of this is limited as many VPN providers have a strict no logs policy where they don’t keep any information about their customers on logs. Some of the best VPN service provider are NordVpn, Surfshark, and ExpressVPN.
Tip #7- Use Kensington lock
A Kensington Lock is a security device that attaches our laptop to a stationary object. The principle of working is similar to that of a bicycle lock.
Most of the laptops have a Kensington hole either on the sides or the back. The position may vary depending upon the make and manufacturer. There are different types of Kensington locks, so it is always better to check our laptop manufacturer manual before deciding on the type of lock we need to buy.
Tip #8- Set up location finding
Windows 10 comes built-in with location services. This feature is of great use to identify the location of our laptop in case it is lost or stolen. To enable this feature press Windows key on our keyboard and search for “Find My Device“.
Now click on the change button and set the radio button “Save my device’s location periodically” to ON.
How to track our lost or stolen device?
Login to Devices using our Microsoft login credentials. Here we can view the devices associated with our account. Click on the device we want to track
Now on this screen click “Find my device” link.
Now we can view our device’s location displayed on this section as well as marked on the map.
This feature is making use of Wi-Fi positioning and IP address to trace our location rather than GPS.
Tip #9- Opt for a laptop cover
If we are a frequent traveler then the chances of the laptop getting damaged from an accidental fall or hit are more. Therefore it is always a wise choice to invest some money for a laptop cover. We could use a soft cover if we are carrying the laptop on a backpack. Otherwise, it is better to go with the hard casing.
Tip #10- Disable booting from CD or USB
In spite of all the Windows security features, hackers may be able to access our system by booting directly from a USB or CD. In such scenarios, as the Windows OS itself is not loaded, the security measures by Windows are simply not going to work. So we have to disable boot from a CD or USB via our BIOS settings. In the latest version of laptops coming with a built-in OS like Windows 10, there is another simple option known as a secure boot.
Once this option is enabled booting from USB drives becomes difficult.
Tip #11- Secure your USB sticks
USB theft is a major source of leaked information. We might be storing confidential documents or personal photos in USB drives as a backup. This information may easily fall into the wrong hands if we lose our USB drive.
In order to prevent this, we have to encrypt our USB drives.BitLocker can be easily enabled on any removable media. The steps to enable BitLocker encryption is the same as mentioned above. It is impossible to decrypt information from a portable media unless we know the password. There are also USB drives with built-in hardware encryption protection such as Kingston IronKey and SanDisk Extreme.
Although the prices are a bit on the higher side these drives are a suitable option for better security
Tip #12- Keep your software up to date
Microsoft releases updates frequently to fix existing issues and take care of newly identified security vulnerabilities. Therefore it is quite essential to keep our operating system up to date.
We must turn on the automatic updates for windows. Otherwise, we have to manually update our system each time an update is available. Also make sure that all our browsers, browser plugins like flash and system frameworks like Java are up to date.
Tip #13- Install an Anti-virus software
Installing good antivirus software is a must if we are serious about our computer security. This antivirus software protects us from a variety of attacks such as ransomware, spyware, worms, trojans, keyloggers, etc. The type of antivirus solution we need depend upon the purpose of use of our computer. If we are working on highly confidential data or files then a complete antivirus suite is essential.
The market leaders in anti-virus software are Avast, AVG, Kaspersky, and Norton. The providers offer a variety of antivirus solutions ranging from the free basic package to ultimate enterprise solutions with a price tag of a few hundred dollars a month.
Tip #14- Use public WiFi hot spots wisely
Public Wi-Fi is seen in popular public places like restaurants, railway stations, airports, malls, and hotels. These networks allow us to access the Internet for free. Most of us feel that it is pretty harmless to use public wifi for accessing our social media accounts or checking our bank statement. The problem with public Wifi is that the owners who set this up for improving customer experience may not be concerned about the security of the network.
Many common forms of attack such as man in the middle attack, snooping, sniffing and malware distribution may happen over an unencrypted public WiFi network. Therefore we have to be extra cautious while accessing public hotspots. To minimize the security threat we should consider the following points
- Never allow our laptop to connect to the WiFi automatically
- Always use a WiFi that is secured with a password
- Never browse confidential information such as bank statements while we are on public networks
- Only visit sites that use HTTPS
- Log out of all the accounts after using them
- Always prefer a VPN
- Turn off sharing
Tip #15- Install and maintain a Firewall
Windows Defender Firewall is an inbuilt security application created by Microsoft that filters the communication between our system and the internet to block harmful programs. This gives us protection against attacks from our local network or the internet. For modifying, the firewall settings press Windows key and search for “Windows Defender Firewall“.
Here we have options to turn the firewall ON/OFF.
Windows firewall is not a substitute for antivirus programs and hence we should use a firewall together with antivirus software.
Tip #16- Back up your important files
In spite of all the preventive measures to secure our laptop if something goes wrong then we need a backup plan to gain access back to our data. Therefore it is always advisable to keep backups of all our important files in multiple locations such as in an encrypted USB drive or cloud storage. Windows 10 comes with a built-in One Drive app.
Just press Windows key and search for the term “One Drive“.We can directly add files to this path to sync directly with OneDrive.
The free version of OneDrive provides us with 5 GB of space. We can also add Google Drive to our computer and sync files directly. The free version of Google Drive provides 15 GB of storage space.