As technology becomes ever more useful in many aspects of day-to-day life, found in our pockets, bags and every room of the house, smart devices are increasingly placed under the tree in the run up to Christmas Day.

The latest smartphones, tablets, netbooks and gaming PCs are all popular picks on festive wishlists. But in many cases, data security doesn’t get a look in – it isn’t a fun, exciting present to unwrap on Christmas Day, and it isn’t something everybody thinks of when they’re dropping unsubtle hints about what to buy. But without good security, a brand new laptop could be rendered useless in no time by malware and adware.

This season’s most sought-after smartphone could be slowed down to five-years-ago standards by corrupt apps, and the personal data held within – from banking and ID details to photos and phone numbers – could end up accessible to hackers. Data security is the last thing on most people’s minds during the festive season, but to help keep new devices working properly and to keep the data within them secure, there are a few easy steps you can take.

antivirus

Install antivirus at setup

Whether you’re shopping for someone else or making requests for your own gift list, make a note that antivirus is one of the ‘must haves’.  In an ideal world, all devices would come with antivirus pre-installed – but in many cases, even those that do come with only the basic version of what could be a more comprehensive package. While Apple devices are generally less in need of antivirus than other devices, all other makes and models require full protection – and even Apple products have been shown to need additional defence against malware.

If you’re lucky enough to receive a new smart device this year but aren’t also furnished with an antivirus package, invest in one right away. A good antivirus setup, complete with a firewall and email scanner, will protect you against a raft of everyday security threats.

Whether you’re familiar with phishing scams, Trojan viruses and other security risks or not, the key thing to remember is that without antivirus and a firewall, third parties can potentially access your device – and malicious files can easily be downloaded to it. It only takes a few minutes to set up defences, and it could save you having to buy a new device sooner than expected.

Use a password manager

With different passwords to log into emails, social networks, shopping sites, streaming sites and more, it can get tricky to remember what’s what. And even though it’s increasingly publicised that simple passwords like ‘123456’ and ‘Password’ are easy to crack, they’re still widely used – how is that known? Because they often appear on lists of the millions of passwords leaked in hacking scandals every year.

So, why is anyone still using them? Probably because they’re easy to remember. And often, people use the same password for multiple accounts – meaning that as soon as one is compromised, they all are. Remembering dozens of different complex passwords is pretty much impossible, but that’s where a password manager comes in.

Rather than risk your accounts being compromised, set up those hard-to-remember, complex passwords on each one. Then, use a password manager to remember them all. This way, the only password you need to remember is the one to log in to your password manager – and a good service will be able to suggest secure password options and remind you to update them regularly.

Install a VPN for sensitive transactions

Once you’ve ensured that your device is defended, and that accounts stored within it are secured with complex passwords, another tool to help with your security is a VPN.

Virtual Private Networks are often thought of as a tool for trying to watch international streaming services or for getting onto Facebook at school, but they’re fast becoming as important a part of any internet security set up as antivirus itself. Though not designed to spot and remove viruses, VPNs can protect you in other ways.

When you’re browsing the internet on a new computer or phone, installing a VPN app gives you additional privacy and anonymity. If you’re planning to do things like online shopping and mobile banking – where card and account details are being entered into webpages – a VPN can add a layer of encryption to your web traffic to ensure that if anyone tries to hack in, all they see is loads of nonsensical encryption keys rather than your personal data.

You may be more likely to think of installing Microsoft Office or Fortnite on a computer than to seek out a VPN, and more keen to get the latest networking apps on your mobile – but a VPN is just as quick to install. If you’re using multiple devices, get a service you can use on all of them so that nothing slips between the cracks of your security. 

Last but not least, there are – of course – physical considerations for your new tech. Even the best cyber security won’t keep your device working smoothly and bug-free in the event that it gets physically damaged, so make sure things like screen protectors and bumper cases make it onto the Christmas list too.