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Secure your digital life in 12 easy steps

Lock down your PC, home network, ID and phone

Good security advice can be hard to find. We've assembled a dozen simple but essential tips - a 12-step security program - to keep your PC, smartphone, gadgets and identity safe. The steps are practical and fairly easy to perform, so you can strengthen your security without losing your mind in the process

10. Avoid public computers and Wi-Fi

As convenient as free Wi-Fi and publicly available computers may be at, say, a public library or café, using them can leave you and your personal information exposed. Public computers might be infected with spyware and other types of malware designed to track your movements online and harvest your passwords.

The same is true of open Wi-Fi networks. Cyberthieves may set up rogue Wi-Fi networks that look legitimate (for instance, one may be named for the café that you're visiting) but enable the crooks to collect your personal information. Even legitimate open Wi-Fi networks may leave you vulnerable. For an example, look no further than the Firesheep plug-in for Firefox, which allows just about anyone to hijack log-in sessions for various social networks.

Sometimes, you may have no choice but to use a public computer or Wi-Fi network. When you do, don't use it to check your email or social network accounts, conduct online banking, or perform any other action that entails logging in to a site. If you have access to a VPN, use it.

11. Be password smart

You probably know already that using obvious or easy-to-discover passwords like 'password' or your pet's name is a bad idea. But how can you make your passwords significantly more secure?

First, you need to use a different long, strong password for each account. Hackers often attempt to break into accounts by employing a 'dictionary attack', which involves using words straight from the dictionary to guess your password. So don't use standard words as your passwords; instead, try creating them from a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. And don't simply replace letters in a word with a symbol (for example, using the @ symbol in place of an A); it's too common a trick. You can also strengthen your passwords by using a mix of lowercase and capital letters.

Basically, the more complex a password is, the better. But try to use something that you'll be able to remember - a mnemonic of some sort that incorporates various alphanumeric symbols - and that nobody but you would know.

Remembering multiple passwords can be a challenge, which is why many people find that a good password manager is indispensable. KeePass is a good, free password-management option that works on Windows and Mac OS X systems.

12. Check your credit report each year

Unfortunately, even if you do everything right, bad guys might still succeed in stealing your identity. After all, you can control who has access to your personal information, but you can't control how well a company that you do business with secures its personal-data records.

Nevertheless, you can limit the damage that would result from undetected identity theft by checking your credit report regularly. Periodically checking your credit report is a good way to make sure that no one has opened credit card or bank accounts under your name.

  1. Lock down your devices
  2. Encrypt your hard drive
  3. Lock down your smartphone
  4. Don't neglect physical security
  5. Avoid public computers and Wi-Fi
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