You know it's going to happen; a friend or relative asks you to help set up their new computer and ensure that they're protected from all the potential nasties out there. Follow these five simple steps to make sure their machine is safe.
Picture by Andrea Verdiani
For the purposes of this guide, I'm presuming that the target of your kindness does not know much about security. More advanced users might choose to ignore or modify a couple of these stages, but for typical, non-technical users, these are all essential.
1. Make sure the machine is patched
This is the most crucial stage, though it's also the most tedious. Even a brand-new machine won't have all the latest software updates on it, but having those installed is arguably the most crucial element of your security arsenal. Criminals constantly try to discover new weaknesses to exploit, but malware which is entirely avoidable continues to proliferate because people don't remember to patch.
This guide walks you through you to install updates on Windows and Mac if you're not familiar with the process. Remember that you may need to go through the update process multiple times; keep doing it until no more updates are available. This can easily take a couple of hours (depending on the speed of your machine and your connection). Have something else to do (a book to read or a phone to play with) while you're waiting.
2. Install security software
Whether you choose a paid-for product (handy for deferring support issues) or use a free option, it's important to have proper protection on your machine. Install it, make sure it has downloaded relevant updates, and run a scan on the machine. In theory there shouldn't be an issue with a brand-new computer, but caution pays. (If the machine comes with trial versions of other security software, uninstall those first.)
3. Set up a browser password manager
Using a browser password manager eliminates most of the common mistakes people make with passwords. Our guide to setting one up will ensure safe passwords for online use that will make the computer's owner less vulnerable to attack.
4. Set up a boot USB stick
If the machine does experience problems — whether security or hardware-related — booting into Windows (or Mac OS X) may not be possible. Setting up a bootable USB will give you a way to access the machine if problems occur. Again, we have a detailed guide on what you need to do to set this up.
5. Make sure automatic updates are enabled
Updates to the OS and security software are essential to maintain security, so make sure these are switched on. Most operating systems security packages will default to automatically downloading updates, but it pays to double-check. In Windows, search for Windows Update and check that 'Install updates automatically' is selected. In Mac OS X, check Software Update in System Preferences (the default is to check weekly). For your security software, the location will vary, but typically it's found under a Settings or Update option.
Lifehacker 101 is a weekly feature covering fundamental techniques that Lifehacker constantly refers to, explaining them step-by-step. Hey, we were all newbies once, right?