Tips for securing Internet connected devices

From the hottest new tablet to sleek smartphones and laptops, electronic devices are likely at the top of many consumers’ holiday wish lists this year. Many lucky recipients will immediately load personal data, contact information, photos, and entertainment files onto their new toys, eager to enjoy them right away.

Not so fast, warns McAfee. When new devices are completely unprotected, they can be very vulnerable to malware infections or social engineering scams that can steal personal information.

Cybercriminals are widening their nets to target a variety of devices and platforms. McAfee LabsTM is reporting that while Mac and mobile device malware have not hit the mainstream yet, they are increasing, and PC threats continue to escalate significantly.

McAfee encourages consumers to take some simple precautions to keep their digital lives and devices safe through the holidays and into 2012:

1. Protect your data. Consider a product that offers data backup and restore features as well as advanced security that allows you to locate a missing device and remotely lock your device and wipe your data in case of loss or theft.

2. If you have a new Apple computer or device, including an iPad or iPhone, transfer your PC best practices to your new Apple product.

As a proactive measure, consider installing security software that’s been developed for the Mac since more threats are being aimed at this platform. Check out Apple’s new iCloud service, which provides tools for syncing, backing up and securing data. Use the native security settings on your new device to require a passcode to access the device.

3. If you have a new PC or netbook, make sure your computer has comprehensive security software – anti-virus software alone is not enough. Be sure to back up regularly.

Your security software should include at a minimum: real-time anti-virus, a two-way firewall, anti-spyware, anti-phishing and safe search capabilities. Additional levels of protection include anti-spam, parental controls, wireless network protection, and anti-theft protection that encrypts sensitive financial documents.

4. Keep in mind that free security software can leave you unprotected. Free security software typically provides only basic protection, and is often offered to get you to buy more comprehensive products. A September 2010 USA TODAY survey of 16 anti-virus companies shows that no-cost anti-virus programs generally lack important features such as a firewall, website health checks, and automatic updates.

To ensure the best protection against emerging threats, look for security software that provides real-time protection using data continuously updated in the cloud.

Don’t forget to check whether the security software installed on your new PC is only a trial version. If it is, remember to buy a subscription so that you have continuous protection against newly discovered threats.

5. Be aware of “scareware,” or fake antivirus software. Scareware tricks users into believing that the computer is infected to get them to “buy” fake anti-virus software and hand over their personal and financial details, usually via pop-ups.

Don’t buy anti-virus software through pop-up ads. Always purchase your security software from a reputable vendor.

6. Educate your family and pay attention to your children’s online activities. Keep your computer in a common area and discuss which information is appropriate to share online and which is not, such as addresses, phone numbers, and other private information. Be aware that if your children are surfing the web, they may not be as prudent when clicking on unknown links and sites, potentially increasing the risk of threats.

7. If you or your child has a new gaming or entertainment device (Nintendo Wii or 3DS, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360), remember that these devices are now Internet-connected and vulnerable to many of the same threats as PCs.

Make reliable back-up copies of games to protect your investment. Take advantage of built-in parental controls that can help shield kids from violent games or limit when the device can be used.

8. If you have a removable storage device, such as a flash drive or portable hard drive, use technologies that will help protect your information.

Consider using a secure, encrypted USB stick, to encrypt your information so it is unreadable if your device is lost or stolen.

9. If you have a new smartphone or tablet, know that threats aimed at mobile devices are growing.

Mobile malware is on the rise, and Android is now the most targeted platform. According to McAfee, attacks aimed at the Android platform grew 37 percent from the second quarter to the third quarter of 2011.

Malicious applications are a growing threat area, so be careful of third-party applications and only download from a reputable app store. Read other users’ reviews and make sure the app’s access permissions make sense.

Make sure you also protect against data loss, by backing up your mobile devices regularly.

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