After many mindless hours of scrolling through endless social media posts every night, you might’ve developed the habit of shutting your laptop and leaving it casually on the coffee table. Do you think twice about locking it? Maybe not – because some house rules are so common sense, you assume no one’s going to invade your privacy by snooping around. And while most of us are lucky enough to never have this turn into an issue, it can’t hurt to practice extra caution in a world where bank accounts, credit cards, and other private information are too readily available online. Thankfully, electronic devices are built with your security in mind, so even if you’re not necessarily worried about your roommate snooping around, there are a few simple security measures you should always take to protect your private info.
1. General Tips
Let’s get some basics out of the way before we dive in. There are varying levels of security, depending on your (potential) problem. When you’re co-living, you should treat your devices the same as you would a public computer. When you log into Facebook on a library computer, you probably remember to log out of the site and the system, right? Because you don’t want a stranger posting something like “My mother is a hamster, and my father smells of elderberries,” on your page — among other strange, potentially obscene things. So do the same thing at home: Log out, or set your laptop/phone/tablet to lock after a few minutes of being inactive.
Charlie Cohn, Head of Marketing at college learning marketplace StudySoup, points out that in some cases, the device you want to protect might not be yours alone. And for that, there’s a pretty simple solution.
“If you share a computer with a roommate or housemate, set up a different user profile for each person that uses the device,” Cohn says. “If it will prevent you from being able to easily open each others’ files or access websites where you are logged in.”
Make sure if anyone wants to poke around, they encounter a password. Which brings us to our next point:
Get a password. Better yet, get several passwords. Do you have the same password with different variations for each and every account you have on your devices and online? It’s not uncommon, but it’s very risky — especially if you run across a phishing site that wrangles the information out of you and can tell your friends about your hamster of a mother and drain your bank account faster than you can type “OMG.”
“It’s best to use complex and unique passwords so that one compromised password doesn’t allow someone to access all of your files,” says Randy Downs, an IT expert and owner of Downs Consulting Services.
“It does little good to password-protect your data if you leave the code lying around. Likewise, it’s not useful to have passwords that can be easily guessed, like your pet’s name or simply ‘password’.”
So get several passwords, and make them complicated. The more important the device/site, the more complicated the password. Example: A good Neopets password (remember those things?) would be the name of your cat. A good bank account password would be something like N7P0Q1B8$A12L!. Luckily you don’t have to come up with something that crazy on your own. Websites like Strong Random Password are free and let you generate secure passwords with multiple variables. Just remember to keep it safe somewhere and not super accessible.
Now let’s say your roommate is digging around and they also happen to be an expert in the field of technology. You’re going to need some extra lock-down, and encryption is the way to go. Encryption is basically a password for your password. When something has been encrypted, it garbles the data around into an unreadable mess, and the only way to translate (decrypt) it is to know the password.
Again, you need a good password, especially for these services. While this may sound complicated, it’s simply a matter of taking an extra step to know you’re extra secure.
“Encrypting devices such as iPhones can be as easy as going into Settings, enabling a strong passcode (i.e., six digits or more) and enabling data protection. Be very careful that you have the passcode written down somewhere safe as you can find yourself locked out as well. A six-digit passcode can take up to five years to guess if all combinations are used,” says Downs.
Nicholas Larsen, a technology support expert at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, recommends that when you’re trying to encrypt your laptops and computers, you should look into the encryption services already provided on your operating system.
“Windows offers BitLocker for some users, and Macs inherently have FileVault — you just have to enable it,” he says.
As for emails, Randy Downs points out that commonly used email services like Gmail and Yahoo already use encryption, as do most WiFi routers, but it doesn’t hurt to verify.
“You should have WPA2 encryption on with a strong password and WPS off,” advises Downs.
Finally, make sure your Cloud Data is protected as well; a strong password is again the key.
“Even better, use cloud encryption like CloudFogger, which encrypts the data on your computer and decrypts as needed,” Downs says.
To make a long story short, practicing good security methods at home doesn’t hurt, and it’s pretty simple. Whether it’s your snooping roommate, the stranger that found your phone on a city street, or the adept hacker that took your Twitter account and sent all those weird messages to your ex, a good password could make a world of difference.