Are you reading this article on your smartphone, tablet or laptop? There is a good chance you are, as more and more of us are doing everything from reading the news to ordering a supermarket shop to putting the kettle on via our devices.
The average Brit spent two hours and 29 minutes a day on their phone in 2016, according to research by market research firm eMarketer.
But, while you’re checking Facebook or shopping around for a better energy deal, a criminal could be accessing your personal information.
We’re all so busy using our phones, laptops and tablets that many of us don’t set aside the time to update our software, security programmes and virus protection.
As a result, the government’s Cyber Aware campaign has launched ‘Tech Free 15’ (#TechFree15) to get us all to put our computers or smartphones down for 15 minutes a day and use that time to install the latest software and app updates so we can stay secure online.
A survey by Cyber Aware found that more than a third (38%) admit that we’ve missed what a friend, partner or family member was saying because we were distracted by our smartphone. So, taking a Tech Free 15 break could improve our relationships too.
“We all tend to underestimate the amount of time we spend on our smartphones,” says Honey Langcaster-James, a psychologist and wellbeing expert. “Taking a Tech Free 15 whilst you install your software and app updates and using that time to relax or communicate with loved ones is a starting point and means you can have both a healthy mind and phone.” View the video below for more on this.
Why it’s important to update your device software and apps
Malware is one of the key methods scammers use to get hold of our personal information. It can get onto your computer via dodgy websites, email attachments or downloads. On smartphones and tablets you can also get infected via specially designed apps that contain malware.
Once it has infected your device, malware can give scammers control of your computer or mobile, send out spam emails or scan your computer for personal information.
You also need to be on your guard against spyware that you can accidently install when you click on internet advertising. Spyware scans your computer for personal information or monitors your keystrokes to get passwords.
How to stay up-to-date
The key to protecting all your devices – smartphone, tablets, laptops and desktop computers – is to regularly update your operating system and browser.
Apple, Google, Microsoft and all the other software firms are constantly trying to stay ahead of hackers and scammers by adding patches and amendments to their software’s security systems.
But, unless you keep your programmes up-to-date you won’t get the benefit of the constantly evolving security software. Use your Tech Free 15 time to make sure your operating systems and browsers are up-to-date.
Be aware that many updates on your computer or laptop need a system restart to finish installing. So, when you take your Tech Free 15 break, make sure you switch your computer off or restart it, to make sure it is fully protected.
- Android users: Android smartphones or tablets should automatically check for updates for the apps you use, but sometimes you may be prompted to authorise an update.
- Apple users: Apple devices should prompt you when an iOS update is available. Make sure you keep all your apps up-to-date too. The App Store has an option to keep all apps automatically updated, or you just need to go into the App Store, click on ‘updates’ and ‘update all’. If you aren’t automatically updating apps then a red dot will appear next to the App Store icon when updates are available.
- Microsoft users: On Microsoft you can turn on automatic updates via the ‘Windows Update’ icon.
You also need to keep all your web browsers up-to-date as many of us now use third-party browsers, such as Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox, that aren’t included in your operating system’s security updates.
- Google Chrome should automatically update, but you can check if you have the latest version by opening Chrome and clicking on the three vertical dots at the top right. If there is an update it will say ‘Update Google Chrome’ in the menu.
- Firefox is also set to automatically update itself, but you can double check you are up-to-date by clicking on Firefox in the menu bar and then selecting ‘About Firefox’. It will then start checking for updates and prompt you to install any available.
Extra protection for Apple devices
It is very difficult to download a dodgy app on an Apple product as you can only get apps via the App Store, and programmes on there have to pass Apple’s rigorous security checks.
Apple also has inbuilt defences in its operating system – iOS – which help protect you from viruses, malware and spyware.
But, you can undo all of Apple’s hard work if you jail break your phone or tablet. This is a process that means you can download apps from anywhere – not just the App Store. This could mean you end up downloading an app designed by criminals that couldn’t pass the tests to get onto the App Store.
When it comes to anti-virus or anti-malware apps, the App Store doesn’t include many as Apple thinks they aren’t necessary. But, if you want to take a belt and braces approach there are a couple of apps to take a look at - MobiShield (99p) and Lookout (free) are the most popular.
Well-known security firms including McAfee and Bitdefender also offer security software for Apple computers. Install one of these to make sure your computer is fully protected from cyber criminals.
Added protection for Android devices
Android is an ‘open’ operating system. This means there are no safeguards in place to protect your data, and anyone can design software that you can then download onto your smartphone or tablet.
In the past, Google didn’t closely check apps on its Play Store, and as a result there were numerous occasions when malware spread via approved apps – 42,000 times in 2014 alone in fact. Google now has an approval process for apps helping users identify trustworthy sources but it’s unlikely to stop all malware.
Another problem for Android users is that as an open system you can download apps from anywhere you like, making it hard to be certain you are putting safe software onto your smartphone or tablet. Hackers exploit weaknesses in software, so the best approach is always to install the latest software and app updates as these contain vital security updates.
The safest way to doubly protect Android devices is with an anti-malware app. The big names in internet security all offer such software starting from free, with AVG, Bitdefender, and McAfee all offering apps via the Google Play Store.
So, if you do anything today, ensure it's taking a Tech Free 15 break to protect your devices. For more information on this and tips on how to protect yourself online, visit the Moneywise hub in partnership with Cyber Aware - Stay secure online: How to be Cyber Aware - and see Cyberaware.gov.uk.
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