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Computer security: Meeting your family during the holiday season?


Help keep them secure. Discuss “security” with them. Tell them how to protect their digital life, their documents and data, their photos and videos, their Facebook and Instagram accounts, and their online banking access. Start with your family. And then move on to your friends. Here are some ideas of how to do it.

Let’s start with the people you know. And those you don’t. Would you ever invite a random person from the street into your home? Would you accept a parcel from someone unknown and open it up? Would you follow a stranger into his car? (and what about your kids?) And how would that translate into the digital world? Chatting with some avatars on the other side of the world (who might happen to be “a dog”)? Or opening up an attachment to an unsolicited and unexpected e-mail with no return address nor reference to you; unrelated to you, your job or your interests; written in a foreign language; full of typos? What about clicking on random links in similar e-mails, Facebook posts, WhatsApp messages, or on dodgy webpages? Encourage them to be more suspicious. Common sense in the real world also applies to the digital world. Or else your digital life is in jeopardy.

Have a fun discussion about passwords. Secure long ones. Breakable short ones. Stupidly obvious ones. Nice complex ones. Without, of course, disclosing the passwords you use, talk about what kinds of passwords work for you and what kinds don’t. How do you memorise them (how did your grandma remember phone numbers in the last century)? What strategy do you employ for different applications and websites? Do you use a verse from your favourite poem? Or the chorus of your most cherished song? What about a good mathematical formula? Or the recipe of your preferred dish? The contents of a CD you bought 20 years ago? Or a combination of them all? Remember that good passwords should never be shared with anyone, be sufficiently complex that they cannot be found in any dictionary, and be different for different important websites and devices.

Also show them how they can keep their devices up-to-date: their Windows PCs (search for “Updates”), their Macbooks (Apple logo, then System Preferences, then App Store) but also their iOS (Settings, then Software Update and Settings, then Apple ID, then iTunes & App Store, then enable Updates) and Android (Google Play Store, then Menu Settings and enable Auto-update) smartphones and tablets. Also consider any other networked device, like their wireless access points, webcams, smart TVs, gaming consoles… If you feel comfortable doing so, check whether these are running the most recent firmware version. Usually, somewhere they will provide a “check-for-recent-update” button. Your family and friends will be grateful!

Finally, note that all our Bulletin articles are publicly available on the CERN Bulletin’s home page. In addition, we have collated them into a nice Christmas read. Maybe your friends and family will be interested to learn more about computer security best practice and protective measures…

The CERN Computer Security Team wishes you a safe and secure 2019 (and, similarly, end of 2018)!

Do you want to learn more about computer security incidents and issues at CERN? Follow our Monthly Report. For further information, questions or help, check our website or contact us at Computer.Security@cern.ch.