10 ways to secure any tech you unwrapped this holiday season

Years ago, our biggest tech worries were computer glitches, dead batteries and seriously slow internet.

Now? Hackers can hold our data for ransom, cybercriminals sell our private info on the Dark Web and it’s easy for just about anyone to find out way too much about you online. Tap or click to remove yourself from a creepy people search site right now.

That means the new phone, tablet, computer, smart speaker or even TV you unwrapped for Christmas is a potential in for clever crooks. Did you do everything you need to to protect your shiny new gadgets?

Just about every connected device needs more than just the basic start up steps, and setting up your tech improperly can be dangerous for your privacy and security. Tap or click here for the very first thing you need to do with your new iPad.

No matter what you received this holiday season, there are some basic steps you can take to ensure you and your tech are protected.

1. Stay on top of updates

This one should go without saying, but it’s always worth repeating. Hackers are relentless when it comes to designing tools and methods to steal our information.

When a bug or a security flaw is discovered, you can bet hackers will be all over it like flies on honey.

That’s why updating software and firmware is critical to safeguarding your devices and data.

When vulnerabilities are found, software and hardware developers work quickly to patch them so customers stay safe. Ignoring these updates means leaving holes in your system for hackers to get in.

Still using Windows 7? Microsoft is ending support in very soon. Tap or click here to learn how to upgrade to Windows 10.

2. Make it official

This will be more specific to each device, but it’s always worth visiting your product’s official website and registering it with the manufacturer. This lets them know who bought the product and shows you what warranty services are available and what support options the company can provide.

It can also help you recoup your device in the event it fails, a hacker takes over or worse.

Because each product has a different process, it’s a good idea to check the user manual to see if any product registration info is available. Can’t find yours? Tap or click here to access thousands of user manuals online for free.

3. Don’t wait until it’s too late

When you get a new device, don’t just start fresh. Back up and transfer your old data to your new gadget.

Accidents happen, but when data is lost you can’t piece it back together again. A detailed backup is one of the most important things you can do with your tech.

Whether it’s a smartphone, tablet, laptop or video game console, creating a backup will preserve your private data in the event of a disaster and can help you pick back up again — even if you move to a new device.

Plus, if your backup is secure, threats like ransomware become meaningless. Always back up your data no matter what.

Tap or click to see 5 critical steps for backing up your data.

4. Prepare for emergencies

Smartphones and tablets give you the tools to communicate with anyone, no matter where you are. That’s why it’s vital to add your emergency contacts in case disaster strikes.

When you add emergency contacts to your phone, odds are they’ll be mixed in with your regular ones.

There’s no special marker or process to make them “emergency contacts,” so make them stand out as

VIPs on your device and set them as Favorites for speed-dial access.

On iPhone, simply open the Phone app and tap Favorites on the bottom left corner of the screen. Then tap the + icon in the upper left corner and select your preferred emergency contacts.

On Android, open the Phone app and tap Favorites in the bottom left corner. Then, tap Add on the top right corner of your screen and select the contacts you wish to add to your favorites. You can also add any contact to Favorites from within the Contacts app by tapping the star icon in the upper right corner.

5. Lock down your accounts the right way

Weak passwords are the bane of cybersecurity experts everywhere. In fact, they’re one of the top causes for hacks globally, and millions of bad passwords are already on record for hackers to use and abuse. Tap or click to see how bad passwords led to millions of stolen accounts ending up on the Dark Web.

Despite the urgency, it’s not super difficult to create strong passwords — but it requires some creativity. Avoid using your own name or simple, common expressions that others would guess easily. Include numbers that aren’t personal to you and consider substituting letters with numbers.

Tap or click here for even more tips to make stronger passwords.

6. Stop your new smart TV from spying on you

Smart TVs are hot gifts everyone loves, but did you know there’s someone behind the scenes watching your viewing habits? Smart TVs deploy a feature called ACR or Automatic Content Recognition.

ACR scans the programs you watch and sends the data back to streaming services and marketing firms so they can advertise to you. This is annoying and intrusive and also one of the reasons smart TVs are so cheap nowadays.

Fortunately, you can disable this feature. The steps will be different for every brand. Tap or click here to shut out advertisers on your smart TV.

7. ‘Alexa, delete’

A huge scandal erupted when it was revealed Amazon was recording users and transcribing the data. But it’s far from the only company doing this. Google and Facebook are equally guilty of relying on user recordings to improve their respective AI.

Fortunately, each of these platforms offers a method to disable or remove recordings at your convenience, but most users aren’t aware of how to do it. These companies are banking on that for the sake of their software development, but there are multiple ways to configure your smart speakers for maximum privacy. Tap or click here to learn how to optimize your Echo, Facebook Portal and Google Home for privacy.

 

8. Goodbye, neighbor

Thanks to Ring Video Doorbells, Amazon now controls one of the nation’s largest surveillance systems — and people willingly paid for it.

But the biggest risk Ring users face is potentially revealing their home or office locations through Ring’s built-in Neighbors social network. Tap or click for details on what you’re really sharing if you have a Ring system.

If you make a post to Neighbors, that alert is publicly visible and can be shared with everyone from law enforcement to dedicated snoops. If you avoid posting to Neighbors, you will enjoy more privacy along with your Ring doorbell.

9. Take control of your privacy

Just like smart TVs, streaming devices keep tabs on your viewing experience to better target you with ads and marketing. Fortunately, you can turn this off no matter which brand you use.

  • Roku: Open Settings, then Privacy, followed by Advertising and check the Limit ad tracking option.
  • Apple TV: Open Settings, then General, followed by Privacy and turn the Limit Ad Tracking option on.
  • Amazon Fire TV Stick: Open Settings, then Preference, followed by Privacy Settings and turn off the Interest-based Ads option.

This will limit your device’s ability to track your viewing habits and will keep your private media time between you and your family.

10. Cut the bloat

Mac users are lucky. Unlike PC folks, they don’t have to worry about useless bloatware apps that come packaged from the manufacturer (unless, of course, you really hate the built-in Calculator and Calendar apps on MacOS).

Thankfully, Windows 10 features a settings menu that lets you pick and choose the apps you want to keep on your system, making it easy to eliminate programs you’ll never use. Tap or click here to say goodbye to ad-filled games and boring productivity suites.

PRO TIP: Whatever you do, hang on to that box!

This is an unsung bit of holiday advice, but it can potentially save you hundreds of dollars when things don’t quite go as expected.

When returning any item, the box is the second most important thing to hang on to besides the receipt. Many stores won’t even accept returns without it, and keeping the box gives you a handy storage container in case you need to put your gadget away.

Plus, boxes for tech gear tends to contain important information like serial numbers and product codes — both of which are necessary to register your product and get tech support.

Plus, if you ever sell your device secondhand, having a box adds more value to your product and can help put even more money in your pocket when it’s time to recycle.

BONUS TIP FOR EXTRA KNOW-HOW: Quick fixes to speed up your slow Android phone

You’re starting to notice your Android phone is lagging, but you still have some time before you’re due for an upgrade. Do you have to bite the bullet and buy a new phone at full price? Definitely not — there are many reasons your phone could be moving slowly, and you should rule those out first.

Check out reasons your Android phone might be running slow, and find the solutions to fix the problems. No, you won’t have to empty your wallet or spend hours doing it.

Tap or click here to get your phone back up to speed.

What digital lifestyle questions do you have? Call Kim’s national radio show and tap or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to or watch the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet, television or computer. Or tap or click here for Kim’s free podcasts.

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Learn about all the latest technology on The Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com.