It’s almost Thanksgiving, and regardless of whether or not you celebrate the occasion, now is a great time to sit back and reflect on all the goodness and bounty we have in our tech-filled lives. Think about it. Just 10 years ago, iPhones were still two years away, Uber was a German word, and you could only use Facebook if you had aced the SAT’s and got yourself into Harvard.
Now it’s 2015, and technology has become a central part of our lives. We use it to keep up with old friends on social media and track the calories we burned with Fitbits. We also use apps for just about everything. But for all the convenience our devices afford us, we know all too well that they can come at a cost, one that is sometimes far beyond the sticker price you paid when you bought your Galaxy S5.
That’s why we are really thankful for the features that keep us safe in our digital lives. These are the tools that allow us to stay in touch with Grandma Ellen via Facebook and Skype all the way out there in Wichita, while keeping safe from seedy characters on social media networks. These are the features that let us to do our banking online securely and score great deals on Amazon without compromising our private information. So to honor the elements that protect our digital lives, we present ZoneAlarm’s list of Top 10 Security Features For Which We Are Thankful:
1. Antivirus software
Antivirus programs are the ABC’s and 123’s of secure computing. Antivirus programs run in the background, checking files as they launch and run to make sure they are clear of any malicious code. If they recognize something as a danger, that program is quarantined and then removed by the antivirus. Antivirus software also uses other methods to keep users safe from bad stuff, so it’s easy to see why we are so thankful for it.
Firewall technology has been a critical element in PC security since the early 1990s. Firewalls basically serve as a barrier to regulate entry and exit, to or from private networks, based on a set of rules. The only traffic allowed on a walled-in network is what has been approved by that set of rules. Anything else is denied entry, keeping internal data safe. Firewalls are critical for protecting your PC from hackers, trackers and other cybercriminals. Anyone running a Windows PCs has automatic firewall protection through Windows, but many people also opt for standalone firewalls that offer premium protection.
Encryption has been getting a lot of press these days. Encryption converts information from plain text (like the text you are reading now – regular, uncoded words, meant to be easily understood by all) into coded text that can only be deciphered with a correlating code that unlocks the coded text. Is encryption the future of internet safety or is it a dangerous tool that allows bad people to do bad things undetected? These are questions we don’t necessarily have answers to yet, but one thing is certain: Encryption is the best, most foolproof way to achieve data security.
All web addresses start with http://. but some have a little “s” in there too. Ever wonder why it’s there? That “s” is actually pretty significant. When you connect to a site bearing https://, it has extra layers of security built-in to it, called secure socket layers. This additional security is what allows you to do your banking online and shop securely on Amazon.com or bookdepository.com without fear of having your connection hacked. Thanks, “s” !
5. Password Managers
Password managers allow people to create and store unique, random passwords for each site that they visit. Like encryption, password managers have been in the news lately after a tool to hack a few popular offerings was released recently. Still and all, password managers have proven to be one of the most effective ways to make and store rock-solid passwords. According to ArsTechnica.com, “Password managers allow average people to generate and store virtually crack-proof passcodes that are unique for every site.” 100% fool-proof? Perhaps not. A smart tool to use anyway? Definitely yes.
6. Virtual Private Network or VPN
Often used in a corporate setting, VPNs are a remote employee’s best friend. VPN’s are a group of linked computers that allow data to be shared securely, via encryption, on an internal network even if the employee isn’t actually working in the office. So if you’re itching to hop on a plane and head someplace warmer for a week, but still need to put in office hours, your company VPN has you covered.
7. Parental Controls
If you have kids, you can appreciate how scary the internet can be. Parental controls help parents be proactive about their children’s safety on internet-ready devices such as smartphones, computers and gaming systems. Using parental controls allows you to monitor your child’s online activities, filter and block content and websites, restrict kids from sharing sensitive information, and limit their time online. Your kids may not thank you now for this but they will later on.
8. Two-factor Authentication
Two-factor authentication, which also goes by the names 2FA and Multi-factor Authentication, is something you are most likely familiar with but don’t realize. Remember when you made your Twitter or Facebook account, and in addition to creating a password, they sent you a text message bearing a code to be entered into the site? That’s 2FA – using something other than just a password to set up or enter a site. This other element is something that ONLY the user has, like a code in an SMS message that was just sent to them. Requiring the username and password, along with another element that only the user has, is far more secure than just relying on usernames and passwords to protect you. A lot of sites that you’ll need to log into (most banks, for example) give instructions on how to enable 2FA.
9. Software Updates and Patches
Have you ever received a notice from your operating system or software you have installed that you need to update it? Did you ignore it like a lot of people tend to? Bad idea. Let’s put it this way – Out of date software is vulnerable software. When a vulnerability is found in a program, a patch for that hole is issued. This patch essentially fixes that hole. And when software developers come out with a more current version, the previous ones are less supported, leaving them open to hacks. So think of software updates and patches as band-aids for your computer. If you choose to leave the holes unpatched or the software un-updated, you are inviting hackers onto your PC. So don’t ignore patches and updates. Be thankful for them and do what they tell you to do.
10. Common Sense
This is one factor that we all should be truly thankful for. Each one of us (hopefully) has enough common sense to make educated decisions in our digital lives. Even if you’re not technically-inclined, you should have enough wisdom to be play it safe on the internet. Being careful doesn’t require knowledge of any fancy computer programs or take any specialized training. All you need to do is live your digital life as consciously and prudently as you live your non-digital life. Keep your thinking-cap on, and you’ll see you have a lot to be thankful about.
So go and enjoy this wonderful time of year, aware of all the abundance and sheer amount of stuff we have to be thankful for. And then think about the people you know who may not understand the importance of keeping their digital identities safe and help them see the light. They will thank you for it.
What security features are you most thankful for this season?