Everyone knows that improving their cyber security is important, but it’s hard to know where to start. Viruses, spyware, and malware have been plaguing computers for decades, but new threats like ransomware and compromised webcams have made it even more important to be cautious.
Last year, a cyber attack on a Miami hospital forced the hospital to pay $600,000 to retrieve data that was remotely accessed and encrypted by hackers. It’s no longer enough to simply report suspicious e-mails, stop clicking on ads, and be wary of sketchy looking websites; you should be equipping your laptops and devices with protection too.
We’ve collected some popular products and services that work to provide reliable protection from both current and future threats. That means protecting your internet privacy, ensuring you have a long, strong password, encrypting your most valuable files, and preventing physical data breeches from prying eyes.
It’s still up to you to exercise due diligence: don’t give out potentially valuable personal information online, don’t post pictures of your credit cards on social media, and don’t fall for scams promising too-good-to-be-true deals.
Cyber threats will only get more sophisticated over time, but by using the tools below, you can be proactive and work to significantly reduce your risks.
1. A Webcam Cover
One of the easiest ways to improve your digital security is by blocking your computer’s webcam, which can be turned on remotely if your computer is infected with spyware. Most people, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg use a piece of tape, but I recommend Nano-Shield’s S1 Webcam Cover.
The thin cover fits on top of your computer’s webcam, and lets you easily block and unblock it with your finger. Shield bundles its covers in packs of three, so you can block out your computer, tablet, and smartphone’s front-facing cameras without losing any photo or video quality.
2. A Screen Viewblocker
If you use your laptop in a public place, you don’t want prying eyes looking over at your screen — especially if you’re getting important work done. 3M’s Privacy Filter is a matte screen protector that tints your display from a 60 degree angle. You’ll still be able to see your screen perfectly, but anyone looking over from the sides won’t.
You can attach the Privacy Filter by sticking it directly onto your screen with adhesive strips, or by applying mounting tabs to the sides of your display, which allow you to slide the Privacy Filter on and off of your screen very easily. 3M’s Privacy Filter is available for computers with 12 different screen sizes — from 11.6 inches to 17.3 inches — so make sure to measure your laptop’s screen to choose the right one.
3. A VPN
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is one of the most effective ways to keep your web traffic anonymous, and your identity safe. Each time you visit a website, information about your computer — its location, your IP (internet protocol) address, cookies from other sites you’ve visited — is collected and stored. If a website or the network you’re on is compromised, all of that information can be easily accessed and logged.
When you use a VPN, your information is sent through a secured server and anonymized, so websites don’t get your information. VPNs are not perfect — they can slow down your internet traffic, and may be breached themselves — but using one makes you more secure than surfing the internet regularly.
We like NordVPN because the service works on all of your devices (PC, Mac, iOS, Android, and Linux), and even has dedicated extensions for Chrome and Firefox. Nord doesn’t have a bandwidth cap (some VPNs limit how much data you can use, which is especially troublesome if you stream a lot of video). The company has a no-logs policy, which means it doesn’t collect information about the sites you’ve visited, and allows you to change your IP address multiple times to obscure your internet usage. VPNs may not be as popular as some of the other physical gadgets in our guide, but they’re just as important.
4. A Secure WiFi Router
Your WiFi router is the way all of your devices access the internet, so if someone breaks into it, every gadget (and your entire internet history) is compromised. If you’re using an old WiFi router, or the one provided to you by your ISP (Internet Service Provider), we recommend upgrading to one from eero.
The small router can create a fast, consistent network in an area of up to 1,500 square feet, and comes in a small, subtle package. On the security side, eero’s router has two major upsides: first, it supports WPA 2 (WiFi Protected Access), the latest security standard that can prevent outside access to your network — assuming you have a strong WiFi password. Eero has also decided to update its existing routers to eventually support WPA 3, an even more secure version of WiFi protection that can prevent even more sophisticated cyber attacks.
Second, eero offers optional subscriptions called eero Secure and Eero Secure+, which are all-in-one solutions that fix most major internet security blind spots. Eero secure costs $2.99 per month, and offers ad blocking, safe filters (parental controls), full access to the internet activity of all your devices, and other advanced security features.
Eero Secure+ costs $9.99 per month, and includes a subscription to 1Password (an encrypted password manager we’re also recommending separately), Encrypt.me (a VPN services), and Malwarebytes (an antivirus suite that proactively protects your computer from danger, and cleans it up if your system is infected). Subscribing to these services separately would cost $170 per year, so you end up saving $50 through eero secure while substantially improving your digital hygiene.
5. Antivirus Software
Norton has been in the antivirus game for 35 years, and its latest suite, Norton 360 Premium, protects your computer from spyware, malware, viruses, and other cyber threats. We’re recommending a one-year pre-paid subscription, which can be installed on up to 10 devices (once you sign up for an account and activate your subscription, download the Norton app on your iOS, Android, PC, or Mac).
Norton 360 Premium will send you alerts when it’s detected any potential viruses, and continually update its database to become aware of new threats. It includes access to a VPN, and 75GB (gigabytes) of secure cloud storage, so you can protect your digital data. The company says its software can run constantly without impacting your performance, so you should set it to start immediately once you turn on your computer. It may be a little old school, but antivirus software is still one of the most effective ways to keep your computer more protected.
6. An External SSD with Fingerprint Scanner
Whether you’re making a complete backup of your computer, or making copies of your most important files, it’s incredibly important that you keep your data encrypted. If you don’t, anyone can take your external hard drive and get instant access to all of the files onboard.
One way to keep your files safe is to make sure the app you use to back up your data has an encryption option, or that the external drive you get supports software encryption. If either does, you can lock your backed up files with a long password. Samsung’s new T7 Touch Portable SSD takes things one step further. In addition to supporting 256-bit encryption, the drive has a fingerprint reader, so you can easily unlock it like you would a smartphone or tablet.
The T7 is available in two sizes: 500GB (gigabytes) and 1TB (terabyte), which are both large enough to be used for complete computer backups, but smaller than a standard deck of cards. The T7 has a maximum read and write speed of about 1,000MB/s (megabytes per second), which makes it significantly faster than a traditional hard drive. Samsung bundles a USB-C to USB-C, and USB-C to USB-A cable with the T7, so it can be plugged into any computer.
7. A Password Manager
One of the easiest ways for a hacker to access your data is by exploiting a weak password. But there’s a big tradeoff: You can reuse a simple password you’ll actually remember, or use long, complicated passwords that are easy to forget. You can keep all of your complicated passwords in a notes application, or keep a printed list, but both of those can also be intercepted by someone snooping for your information.
The best solution — and the one I personally use — is 1Password, an encrypted password manager. Here’s how it works: You create one really secure password (make it long and complicated, but something you’ll remember, like three sets of initials followed by birthdays), which you’ll use to unlock your “vault.”
The vault contains all of the long, complicated passwords you create using 1Password’s Password Generator. You can make a 30-digit password that’s a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols in just one tap. 1Password is available on iOS, Android, Windows MacOS, Linux, and ChromeOS, so you can access all of your passwords from all of your devices.
Your 1Password vault is encrypted — the company cannot access it — so make sure to remember your vault password, as it cannot be retrieved if you forget. Making an ultra strong password is one of the smartest decisions you can make once you’ve decided to beef up your cyber security, and a 1Password subscription gets my highest recommendation. The company offers a 30-day free trial, so you can get acquainted with the app before deciding whether it works for you. An annual subscription is $29.99.