Start the Year Off Right with a Personal Security Audit

Dann Albright 14-01-2016

A new year is upon is, and it’s time to take stock of your life and make plans for a successful year ahead – and part of those plans should be to make sure that your personal security is up to scratch. It’s easy to put these things off, but by setting aside an hour or so for a personal security audit at the beginning of the year, you can feel much more confident in your digital safety.


Here are 10 steps you should take to get everything up to date. Most of them are applicable on your computer, but if you can do them on your phone too, you should.

1. Change Your Passwords


Yes, all of them. Change every single one. It’s probably already been far too long since you’ve changed most of them, and it’s even likely that a number of them are the same, or very similar. This is a huge security threat, and it’s time to remedy it. But don’t worry, it’s not going to be nearly as hard as it sounds.

If you aren’t using a password manager yet, you should download one immediately. I use LastPass The Complete Guide to Simplifying and Securing Your Life with LastPass and Xmarks While the cloud means you can easily access your important information wherever you are, it also means that you have a lot of passwords to keep track of. That's why LastPass was created. Read More , but we have KeePass KeePass Password Safe – The Ultimate Encrypted Password System [Windows, Portable] Securely store your passwords. Complete with encryption and a decent password generator – not to mention plugins for Chrome and Firefox – KeePass just might be the best password management system out there. If you... Read More and 1Password Let 1Password for Mac Manage Your Passwords & Secure Data Despite the new iCloud Keychain feature in OS X Mavericks, I still prefer the power of managing my passwords in AgileBits's classic and popular 1Password, now in its 4th version. Read More adherents at MakeUseOf, too. It doesn’t matter which one you choose; just pick one and start using it. You’ll only need to remember a single master password, and the app will help you generate more secure passwords 6 Tips For Creating An Unbreakable Password That You Can Remember If your passwords are not unique and unbreakable, you might as well open the front door and invite the robbers in for lunch. Read More in the future. It’s easy to use, and a big boost to security. A no-brainer.

2. Update Your Router Settings



Even if you refrain from signing into important websites while you’re on public Wi-Fi—which you should—you could still be vulnerable at home Why Your Router Is a Security Risk (And How to Fix It) Read More , especially if you haven’t taken the proper precautions in securing your home router. Using a default network name or password is just asking for trouble.

Fortunately, we have you covered with all of the information you need, from making your home network more secure How to Configure Your Router to Make Your Home Network Really Secure Default router settings put your network at risk, allowing freeloading strangers to squeeze nadwidth and potentially commit crimes. Use our summary to configure your standard router settings to prevent unauthorized access to your network. Read More  to choosing the best type of encryption WEP vs. WPA vs. WPA2 vs. WPA3: Wi-Fi Security Types Explained There are many types of wireless security but which should you be using? Which Wi-Fi is most secure: WEP, WPA, WPA2, or WPA3? Read More . If you need more help with your specific router, search for a tutorial online, or post in the comments and we’ll try to help you out.

3. Check Your Social Media Privacy Settings


Privacy and security go hand in hand, and the lack of privacy in your social media accounts could have some surprisingly significant effects 5 Ways Facebook's Lack of Privacy Can Cost You Money Overlooking how Facebook activity could affect your financial life is a big mistake, as many people have found out recently. Here are five ways that actions on Facebook could cost you money. Read More . Settings differ from network to network, but making sure that only your friends can see your posts, that your app permissions are up to date (using the steps detailed here Thousands Gave Away Personal Data for Free on Facebook - Did You? If you're like thousands of other people, you just gave away a ton of personal information, for a graphic that shows your most-used words on Facebook. Not really a great trade, was it? Read More ), and limiting the information you’re giving away through your friends are good things to do on all social platforms.


Be sure to check out your Facebook photos privacy settings Facebook Photo Privacy Settings You Need To Know About As with everything regarding privacy on Facebook, managing your photos' privacy settings isn't always easy. Read More , WhatsApp security settings Everything You Need to Know About Your WhatsApp Privacy Settings As with all communication tools, privacy is of utmost importance. Here's how to protect your privacy when using WhatsApp. Read More , look into your Twitter and Instagram settings, and use Facebook’s privacy checkup tool Protect Yourself With Facebook's Privacy Check-up Tool Facebook has a privacy problem. It's no secret. You hear stories about that every other day. So to help users understand their settings better, Facebook has released a new tool called Privacy Check-up. Read More to see if everything is as secure as it should be. Remember that whatever you post is probably out there forever, so make sure that only the right people are going to see it.

4. Run a Full Virus Scan


You do have antivirus software, right? If not, you need to get it immediately. We’ve reviewed some great free antivirus packages The 5 Best Free Internet Security Software for Windows Need antivirus, anti-malware, and real-time security? Here are the best free internet security software for Windows. Read More , and even told you how to compare the different options out there Compare Your Anti-Virus' Performance with These 5 Top Sites Which anti-virus software should use? Which is the "best"? Here we take a look at five of the best online resources for checking anti-virus performance, to help you make an informed decision. Read More . For the most part, it’s going to be hard to get one that’s bad, so just download one of the big-name packages and get it up and running (if you don’t want to even think about it, go for Avira).

A full scan should scan every file on your computer to make sure that there’s no malware hiding anywhere. This will likely take several hours, so you might want to run it overnight. If the scan comes up with anything, your antivirus app should tell you exactly what to do about it.


5. Check for Unfamiliar Apps and Extensions.


While some malware will sneak into your computer through ads or infected emails, there’s a decent chance that you’ve downloaded some by accident, too. A lot of adware is bundled with free apps Get Rid Of "Ads By Browser Warden" Permanently Some malware just refuses to die. If your computer's been infected with Browser Warden, it's time to put an end to it. Here's how to get rid of it—permanently. Read More , and you might have a free toolbar 4 Annoying Browser Toolbars and How to Get Rid of Them Browser toolbars just don't seem to go away. Let's look at some common nuisances and detail how to remove them. Read More or coupon extension that collects data about you while displaying a crazy amount of ads.

Check the list of apps on your computer and delete any that you don’t remember giving permission to install (you could probably delete a bunch that you did install, too, to save some space). The same goes with browser extensions, no matter which browser you’re using – malicious browser extensions 4 Malicious Browser Extensions That Help Hackers Target Their Victims You'd be wrong to think all browser extensions are designed to help you. Whether extensions exploit vulnerabilities or send data to hackers, it's time to be vigilant about how you enhance your browser. Read More are out there, and you need to be on the lookout for them.

6. Run Your Updates



Out-of-date software makes it a lot easier for a hacker to get into your computer or your phone. When companies release security patches, they don’t always release them for old versions of their software, and if you’re using an unsupported version, you could be left vulnerable.

So run your updates. Your operating system, your apps, your browser and extensions, your phone – everything. If you haven’t done it in a really long time, it could take a while, but it’s worth the time and minimal effort it takes. You might be nervous about needing to learn how to work your computer again if things look and act differently, but it’s better than having your bank account drained when someone nabs your password.

7. Enable Two-factor Authentication


When you sign in to a site or app with a password, that’s one-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication Lock Down These Services Now With Two-Factor Authentication Two-factor authentication is the smart way to protect your online accounts. Let's take a look at few of the services you can lock-down with better security. Read More requires another piece of information from you. That piece of information is usually a numerical code that’s sent to your phone via a text message or an app – just look at the code, enter it into the site, and you’re in. Yes, it’s more effort. But it’s also way more secure.

If nothing else, be sure to protect your Google accounts and any other email accounts with two-factor authentication. There are going to be times when you wish you hadn’t turned it on (usually because you have to pause Netflix to go find your phone), but it significantly reduces the chances that someone will be able to access your accounts.

8. Disable Tracking


Tons of sites and services track where you go and what you do online. The biggest culprit is Google, especially if you use a number of their services (Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, Hangouts, Drive, etc.). Fortunately, we have a tutorial on how to stop giving so much personal information to Google Android Users: How to Stop Giving so Much Personal Information to Google Android users, by default, give Google a lot of information. Here's how to get out of that trap. Read More , and that’s a really good place to start.

But look through the account settings on other websites, too – you’ll probably see that they’re also tracking you for various reasons as well (usually to show you ads). The more sites you can prevent from doing this, the better. Using the Disconnect browser extension will help you discover who’s tracking you and try to put an end to it.

9. Secure Your Wearables and Smart Home Devices


Wearable technology has blown up over the past few years, with a huge number of devices hitting the market and getting popular. Unfortunately, a lot of these wearable devices can pose a security threat. Check out our article on how to secure your wearables How To Stop Your Wearable Hardware Becoming A Security Threat Read More to minimize the danger.

Smart home devices can also be a risk—your IP cameras can provide visual access to your home, security devices could potentially be hacked, and all manner of other havoc could be wreaked if a hacker gains access to your home network. Keep these security concerns mind 5 Security Concerns to Consider When Creating Your Smart Home Many people attempt to connect as many aspects of their lives to the web as possible, but many people have expressed genuine concerns over how secure these automated living spaces actually are. Read More . As with everything else, choosing strong passwords and encryption are crucial.

10. Stay Informed


This is big. You really need to start staying informed about personal security and privacy threats. We do our best to keep you up-to-date on major events here, but other sites post daily updates on what’s going on in the cybersecurity world, and it’s worth checking them regularly or following them on social media to get the latest threat information.

To get started, check out these 10 security blogs Red Alert: 10 Computer Security Blogs You Should Follow Today Security is a crucial part of computing, and you should strive to educate yourself and stay current. You'll want to check out these ten security blogs and the security experts who write them. Read More . At the very least, you should check them every once in a while to see if they’re reporting anything that could affect you (you can always sign up for their newsletter and use to keep it from cluttering your inbox 4 Decluttering Tips for Newsletters If You Don't Want to Trash Them How many e-mail subscriptions do you have? If you're like me, you have absolutely no idea, but you know that it's a lot. It's time to take action. Read More ). And, of course, keep reading Security Matters here on MakeUseOf!

Make 2016 a Safe Year

I know that the above steps sound like a huge amount of work, but if you just sit down and do them, it shouldn’t take too long. And if you keep up with the things you should be doing anyway – virus scans, changing passwords, keeping track of password leaks – it won’t be nearly as time-intensive next time.

Let’s all commit to being a bit safer online in 2016, and keep the risks to a minimum. Will you be performing a personal security audit this year? What do you plan on doing to minimize threats this year? Share your thoughts below!

Image credits: Bloomua via, LDprod via

Related topics: Anti-Malware, Antivirus, Browser Extensions, Facebook, Online Security, Password Manager, Router, Two-Factor Authentication.

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  1. Anonymous
    January 16, 2016 at 11:22 pm

    I do all the above -- except for #7 2FA (which I hate and won't use) and #9 (no smart IOT devices in my household yet).

    As a frequent world traveler - my concern is that if I lose my phone/tablet and wallet say just got mugged and lost everything) -- and I need to get online fast to connect, to cancel cards, etc. -- the LAST THING I want to deal with is my email provider blocking me because I am signing in from an 'unrecognized' computer! No, your sending me a code to my phone is a total non-starter. And one-time codes? Those are in the wallet that I just lost...

    I use a good password and I am always conscious to password-protect my devices -- and signing out when using public computers (now infrequent). All the times in Ukraine, Russia, Romania, China, etc., etc. -- my single-factor email account has remained safe and sound -- thank you.

    • Dann Albright
      January 17, 2016 at 9:25 pm

      I definitely understand your dislike for two-factor authentication. And if you're at a higher risk of getting mugged than the average person, I can understand why you might not want to use it. Though you could keep one-time access codes somewhere other than your wallet.

  2. Anonymous
    January 14, 2016 at 7:13 pm

    "4. Run a Full Virus Scan"
    A full scan should be done weekly. By the time you do an annual scan, your PC can be totally bug-ridden.

    "5. Check for Unfamiliar Apps and Extensions."
    A task that should be done at least monthly, if not weekly.

    • Dann Albright
      January 17, 2016 at 9:24 pm

      I hope I didn't imply anywhere that these should only be done at the beginning of the year.

      • Anonymous
        January 18, 2016 at 2:11 pm

        The title of your article sorta, kinda does. :-)
        I just wanted to reinforce for anybody reading this the fact that those tasks must be run regularly and frequently.