We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. If you continue to use this site, we'll assume you're happy with this. Alternatively, click here to find out how to manage these cookies

hide cookie message

How to secure a family laptop

Though Windows has become more robust over the past few years, the threat of viruses and social engineering tricks remain

The threat of computer viruses and hacking is hardly a new one and it’s likely you’re aware of the need to protect your laptop from such threats. Though Windows has become more and more robust over the years and the latest versions of Internet Explorer safer than ever, the threat remains.

All sorts of viruses and threats exist online but in the main they are fairly benign - most viruses are very easy to spot and remove nowadays. However, there are problems that can slip through and cause your PC to perform poorly, or worse send your data to a third-party. The information we all store on our laptops could be a gold mine for a hacker should it fall into their hands.

The problem is that in many cases it’s our own desire for making things easy that has opened up our laptops and PCs to the threat in the first place. Over the years websites and services connected to the net have all tried to make it as simple as possible to buy or subscribe to various products. Things like one-click ordering or sites automatically remembering your details certainly make the buying process more convenient, but they also increase your overall security risk.

If you let your children use your laptop there’s also the realistic chance they will download software and applications that you probably wouldn’t or visit websites that have a less than stellar reputation. With so much to lose it’s important that you get to grips with protecting your laptop with both software packages and your own actions when surfing the web and reading emails.

You might not think the risk of losing your personal details is all that big, but a simple, well-engineered virus or Trojan can harvest your data within seconds and without you knowing it’s even there. Similarly, it can be easy to get duped into giving away personal details by responding to emails that purport to be from services and sites you’re signed up to, when in fact they aren’t.

Getting hold of anti-virus software is really easy and should be your first step after starting up your new laptop for the first time. There are plenty of free packages from a range of different and reliable companies, one of the most popular is from Microsoft itself – it’s called Security Essentials.

These free tools do a great job of protecting you, but the paid-for subscription tools also offer further security options that you should look into.

Traditional threats to PC security like viruses are becoming less and less successful nowadays due to improvements in antivirus software. More and more often the biggest problem you’ll come up against is being fooled into clicking on a link or entering personal details. This sort of attack is easier for adults to be prepared for, but younger users especially are susceptible to this kind of social engineering type hack.

In most cases you’ll be tempted into clicking on a link that takes you to a website where you are prompted to enter certain details, in some cases simply clicking the link is enough to give away your username and password. Sites like Facebook and Twitter are breeding grounds for this type of thing.

For this reason it’s good to spend some time educating children how to spot unlikely looking offers and invitations to click on links. These attacks come in many different forms with the most popular being via email. You’ll receive a message that looks like it comes from a bank or credit card company imploring you to click. These messages can look legitimate with the correct logo and similar formatting to other marketing materials you’ll get from the company, but the website will simply be a front to harvest your data from you.

Other times a message that purports to be from Facebook informing you that someone has tagged you or posted a video or picture of you on the site is used to encourage you to click. Again, the site you end up at isn’t Facebook – even if it may look like it. This is, perhaps, one of the most important lessons that you and your children should learn, as it’s one of the most likely ways your laptop will be compromised. Sadly, there’s no software to actively protect your PC from this sort of problem as it’s you typing the information in willingly so looking out for suspicious links and being vigilant are the only things you can do to protect yourself.

It’s not just messages that come directly to your email inbox, as there are threats all over the net. Pop-up windows on websites that claim you’ve won a lottery or similar prize can also lead you to sharing information you did not intend to. Limiting what types of files can be downloaded and educating yourself and your kids on what types of links and messages to ignore is your best chance of staying safe.

The key to having a safe laptop experience is to make sure that you’re aware of the issues and to add an extra level of support installing the software that’s out there. Ensure that your children are aware of the risks and use the tools available in Windows and other software to help you keep an eye on their online activity.

Sadly, there’s no guarantee that your PC will never be the target of a hacker’s attack, however, the better protected you are and the more vigilant your use the less likely it is that you or your PC will come to any harm. A combination of good practice and software tools should see you through.

Visit the Dell Tech Zone for more advice on family computing.

IDG UK Sites

Best Black Friday 2014 tech deals: Get bargains on smartphones, tablets, laptops and more

IDG UK Sites

What the Internet of Things will look like in 2015: homes will get smarter, people might get fitter

IDG UK Sites

See how Trunk's animated ad helped Ade Edmondson plug The Car Buying Service

IDG UK Sites

Yosemite tips: Complete Guide to OS X Yosemite