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Guidry: It’s time to get your family computer ready for school

Published: Friday, Aug. 29, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

It’s back-to-school season and a great time to give your family computer a security overhaul.

Here’s a checklist to help.

Talk to your kids: No technology can replace a discussion with your kids about online safety. Sites like NetSmartz have online safety pledges that you and your child can review, as well as resources on cyberbullying. Remind your kids that everything they post online is visible to others, regardless of privacy settings. Parents, that goes for you, too. Be wary of how much you post online about your family’s whereabouts and activities.

Check antivirus programs on your computers: As always, use a current antivirus program. Now’s the time to do an in-depth scan, at the beginning of the school year.

Upgrade any outdated programs: Old software is a primary vector for viruses. Make sure that your computer has all recent system and software updates. Remember, if you’re still using Windows XP, you must be even more vigilant because you no longer can get updates from Microsoft. Try to upgrade if possible.

Change your passwords: Use lengthy passwords that are unique on every site, with a good mix of letters, numbers and symbols. The best way to create strong passwords is with the random generator provided with many password management tools. You should consider setting up two-factor authentication (2FA) on any site that supports it. This means you use two methods to log in, a password plus another identifier unique to you such as a code texted to your smart phone. While not foolproof, 2FA is stronger than standard passwords.

Set up parental controls: Whether or not you wish to restrict your child’s Internet usage, parental controls work well for logging computer use. Most modern computers come with built-in parental controls, or try a third-party solution.

Detox social media: Fake friends and spam accounts abound on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Go through your list and weed them out. While you’re at it, check your app permissions. Apps should have minimal access to your information and accounts. If there are apps you’re no longer using, delete them. Finally, check your default posting permissions. You should always post to Friends, never to Public.

Clean out mobile devices: Your tablet and smartphone can harbor bad apps that siphon your data and carry malware that infects your computer. Remove any apps you’re not using and review permissions for the rest. Update your device’s software, and use a PIN to restrict access. Don’t forget antivirus software for your mobile devices.

Cover cameras: Cybercriminals blackmail kids by installing malware on their computers and recording them without their knowledge. Cameras on mobile devices and gaming consoles should be detached or covered with a small piece of tape or paper when not in use. And get those cameras out of your kids’ bedrooms.

Even if you don’t have kids or they’re out of school, every electronic device needs a security review from time to time. Why not check yours today?

• Triona Guidry is a freelance writer and IT specialist. Her Tech Tips blog, www.guidryconsulting.com/techtips, offers computer help and social media advice. She can be reached at info@guidryconsulting.com or via Twitter @trionaguidry.

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