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10 easy steps to make Chrome faster and more secure

Gather ’round, kiddos — ’cause it’s time for a story.

Once upon a time, Chrome was a lean, mean browsing machine. It was the scrappy lightweight kid in a block filled with clunky old blobs of blubber. People had never seen a browser so fast, so thoughtfully constructed! It stripped everything down to the essentials and made the act of browsing the web both pleasant and secure — qualities that were anything but standard back in that prehistoric era.

Chrome was “minimalist in the extreme,” as The New York Times put it — with “extremely fast” page loads and a “snappy” user interface, in the words of Ars Technica. Its sandbox-centric setup and emphasis on supporting web-based applications made the program “the first true Web 2.0 browser,” as some other tech website opined.

Well, fast-forward to today, and the fairy tale is over: Eleven years have passed since Chrome’s debut, and the browser — just like that one college buddy of yours — has grown considerably less lithe. These days, in fact, Chrome has earned a bit of a reputation for being somewhat bloated and, thanks to all the third-party software associated with it, not always entirely secure. My, how things have changed.

Still, Chrome remains the de facto standard of modern web browsing, commanding a whopping 67% of the global market, according to recent data from analytics vendor Net Applications. And it has plenty of positives to offer, not least of all its tight integration with the rest of the Google ecosystem — a particular boon for G Suite users.

So whether Chrome’s feeling slightly too sluggish or you simply want to tighten up its security, take the time to go through these 10 steps. They’re all easy to pull off and free from any significant side effects — and together, they’re practically guaranteed to give your browser a much-needed fitness boost.

(Note that, except where specified, these tips revolve around the Chrome desktop browser and should work the same regardless of your operating system — even with Chrome OS, where the browser is built into the system software.

1. Clean up your apps and extensions

Chrome is basically its own platform at this point, and the apps and extensions that run within it can work wonders in customizing the browser and expanding its capabilities. But every single one of those add-ons requires a certain amount of resources to operate — and the more of ’em you have installed, the more bogged down and slothful Chrome can become.

Not only that, but many Chrome apps and extensions require access to at least some of your web browsing activity. That’s why periodically looking over your list of installed apps and extensions and clearing out any items you no longer need is one of the easiest and most effective ways to speed up your browser’s performance while simultaneously strengthening its security.

So type chrome:extensions into your browser’s address bar and carefully evaluate every app and extension you see. If there’s anything you don’t recognize or no longer need, click the Remove button within its box to get rid of it.

The more you can clear out, the better.

2. Put your remaining add-ons under the microscope

For any apps and extensions that you didn’t uninstall, look closely at what sort of access they’re claiming to your web browsing data — and whether they really need to be privy to that much of your activity.

Start once more by typing chrome:extensions into your browser’s address bar — but this time, click the Details button associated with each remaining app and extension, then look for a line labeled “Site access.” If you don’t see such a line, the add-on in question isn’t accessing any of your browsing data. Check it off your list and move onto the next one.

If an app or extension is listed as having access “on all sites,” meanwhile, it’s able to see and even modify what’s in your browser all of the time — without any restrictions. Stop and ask yourself if it genuinely needs that ability. If it doesn’t, switch its setting to either “on specific sites” or “on click,” depending on which setup seems to make the most sense. (If you choose “on specific sites,” you’ll then have to designate which specific sites the extension is allowed to access. If it’s an extension that modifies the Gmail interface, for instance, you might want to set it to operate only on mail.google.com.)

02 chrome extension permissions JR Raphael/IDG

Just because an extension asks for access to your data on all sites by default doesn’t mean you have to leave it that way.

You may run into some extensions that stop working properly as a result of such a change, but it’s worth giving it a whirl. And if an extension won’t function with more limited access without any logical reason, well, it’s worth considering whether it’s really an extension you want to be using.

3. Step up your tab management smarts

If you’re the type of person who keeps tons of tabs open, listen up: Your hoarding habit is bogging your browser down. The more tabs you keep active at once, the slower Chrome will run. It’s inevitable.

The obvious solution is to stop leaving stuff open that you don’t actually need open — but if you absolutely need to have more than a handful of tabs running at any given moment, think about snagging an extension that’ll manage them more intelligently for you and prevent ’em from bringing your browser to a crawl:

  • The Great Suspender runs in the background and automatically suspends any tabs you haven’t looked at after a configurable amount of time. That way, your tabs remain readily available but don’t needlessly eat up resources when they aren’t actively in use.
  • Toby for Chrome transforms Chrome’s New Tab Page into a series of custom tab collections. The idea is that instead of leaving tabs open, you can save them there and then pick up where you left off later.
  • Tab Snooze takes a cue from email and allows you to send any tab away and then have it return at a set date and time. So instead of keeping everything you’ll ever need right in front of you, you can snooze tabs you aren’t actively working with and then have ’em reappear when you’re likely to need ’em.
03 chrome tab snooze JR Raphael/IDG

Tab Snooze brings a clever email-reminiscent organizational system into your browser.

One or more of those tools will go a long way in keeping both Chrome and your brain from getting overloaded.

4. Consider a script-blocking extension

You know what really slows the web down, more than anything connected to your own local browser? It’s certain sites’ overuse of scripts — tracking scripts, ad-loading scripts, video-playing scripts, you name it. (Not that, uh, we’d know anything about such matters ’round these parts. Insert awkward whistling here.)

A script-blocking extension like uBlock Origin will keep such scripts from running and make your web browsing experience feel infinitely faster as a result. You can even manually whitelist sites within the extension as you see fit — whether to keep legitimate scripts, such as video players you actually want to use, from being blocked, or maybe just to keep certain unnamed writers from being shackled in their publication’s basement for having encouraged readers to block revenue-generating scripts.

Erm, let’s move on, all right?

5. Put your mobile browser on a data diet

Here’s one for the Android-owning folk among us: The Chrome Android browser has a handy hidden option that routes slow-loading pages through Google’s servers in order to simplify their code and make them quicker to open. It all happens instantaneously, and nothing looks different as a result.

The feature’s called Lite Mode, and you can flip it on by going into Chrome’s settings on your phone, scrolling down toward the bottom of the list, tapping the line labeled “Lite Mode,” and then flipping the toggle to the on position.

05 chrome lite mode JR Raphael/IDG

The Chrome Android browser’s Lite Mode makes pages smaller and faster to load.

It won’t make a night-and-day difference, but it’s one of the few effective speed-enhancing options available in Chrome’s mobile form — and hey, every little bit helps.

6. Let Chrome preload pages for you

Waiting for a page to load is the worst part of web browsing, but Chrome has an out-of-the-way feature that can take at least some of that pain away by selectively preloading pages you’re likely to open.

It works by looking at every link within a page that you’re viewing, using some Google voodoo magic to predict which links you’re likely to click on, and then preloading the associated pages before you actually click ’em.

This one’s available in both the desktop browser and within the Chrome app on both Android and iOS:

  • On the desktop, type chrome:settings into your address bar, scroll down to the bottom of the screen and click “Advanced,” then in the “Privacy and security” box look for the line labeled “Preload pages for faster browsing and searching” and activate the toggle alongside it.
  • On Android, open the Chrome app’s settings, tap “Privacy,” then look for the line labeled “Preload pages for faster browsing and searching” and make sure the box next to it is checked.
  • And on iOS, open the Chrome app’s settings, tap “Bandwidth,” then tap “Preload Webpages” and select either “Always” or “Only on Wi-Fi” from the options that pop up. (Going with “Always” will result in speedier browsing even when you’re using mobile data, but it’ll also burn through more mobile data as a result.)

If you want to take this same concept even further, the third-party FasterChrome extension will preload a page anytime you hover your mouse over its link for at least 65 milliseconds. That way, when you’re about to click something, the loading starts in the background — and by the time you get there, the time-consuming work is finished and the page is ready to appear.

7. Switch to a better DNS provider

Every time you type a web address into Chrome, the browser relies on a Domain Name System server to look up that URL, find the IP address where the site is located, and then take you to the right place.

More often than not, your internet provider is the one responsible for doing that job — and suffice it to say, it doesn’t tend to do it particularly well. By switching yourself to a third-party DNS provider, you can seriously speed up the time it takes for a web page to come up after you type in its address, and you can also keep your internet provider from collecting data about what websites you visit and then using that information to make even more money off of you.

Cloudflare and Google both offer DNS provider services for free, and both are generally considered to be among the fastest and most reliable options available — and, what’s more, both promise not to store any identifiable info about you or to sell any of your data. You can switch to either of them as your DNS provider by changing a setting in your router’s configuration or by adjusting your settings on a device-by-device basis. This easy-to-follow guide has specific steps for doing that on a variety of different products.

8. Fill in the web’s security gaps

By now, you probably know that most websites should be using HTTPS — a secure protocol that puts a lock icon in your browser’s address bar and lets you know (a) that a site actually is what it proclaims to be and (b) that everything you send to the site is encrypted.

But while most sites have come around to the standard, some still inexplicably cling onto the older and far less secure HTTP protocol.

Well, here’s the fix: A Chrome extension called HTTPS Everywhere will switch insecure sites over to HTTPS for you and ensure anything you transmit to them remains safe from snooping eyes. It’s developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Tor Project, and it’s completely free to use.

08 chrome https everywhere JR Raphael/IDG

HTTPS Everywhere gives you an effective one-click fix for any sites that still aren’t using the secure HTTPS standard.

9. Clean up your computer

If you’ve tried all these steps and your Chrome browser is still struggling, it might be worth checking to see if something funky is going on with your computer that could be affecting Chrome’s performance.

If you’re using Windows, Chrome has its own simple-as-can-be tool for seeking out and removing any malware or other programs that might be interfering with Chrome’s proper operation: Just type chrome:settings into your address bar, click “Advanced,” and then scroll all the way to the bottom of the screen and click “Clean up computer.” Click the Find button on the next screen, then wait while Chrome scans your system and walks you through the process of removing anything harmful it uncovers.

If you’re using a Mac or Linux system, look through your list of installed applications and see if there’s anything present that you don’t recognize — or try a third-party malware checker if you want to dig deeper. (You can find some specific scanner recommendations for Mac here and for Linux here.)

On Chrome OS, meanwhile, malware isn’t really an issue, thanks to the software’s unusual architecture, but it can never hurt to take a look through your launcher and make sure nothing unusual or unexpected catches your eye.

10. Give yourself a fresh start

Last but not least, you can always reset Chrome to its default state — eliminating all apps and extensions, restoring all settings to their out-of-the-box defaults, and giving you a completely clean slate on which to start over.

This isn’t something that’s advisable for everyone, but if your browser is really poky or having other problems and nothing else is making a difference, it’s a final step worth attempting. Type chrome:settings into your address bar, click “Advanced,” and look for the “Restore settings to their original defaults” option at the bottom of the screen. Click it, confirm that you want to proceed, and then sit back and wait for the deed to be done.

With any luck, your need for speed will finally be fulfilled — and you can start getting around the web with optimal security and without all the waiting.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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What’s the Most Secure Way to Handle OS Upgrades?

Your computer’s operating system may or may not be designed with security in mind, but without ongoing software updates, your computer is vulnerable. How do operating systems handle sending out these updates and which approaches are the most secure?

Why Do We Need Software Updates?

There are three key reasons software updates are important.

  • New Features: OS developers provide new features all the time. We want them. Gone are the days when you buy a new box to get the new code. Now you get the goods via software updates.
  • Security Patches: It’s impossible to know all of the vulnerabilities in a program before releasing it into the wild. Updates containing security patches bolster the defenses of the code running on our devices. You can mitigate much of your risk by running the latest versions of software.
  • Ongoing Support: These days we declare a device alive or dead not based on whether it still works, but rather if it still receives updates. A device that no longer receives updates is one that will gradually lose access to newer apps, successfully loads fewer websites, and becomes increasingly vulnerable to exploitation.

There are two ways to distribute these updates. One approach is a centralized model, where a single company manages all of the updates that go to your device, regardless of which brand or model you use.

In a decentralized model, the components that go into your OS come from many sources. There is a degree of separation between the developers and those who package all those various parts together for users.

Both approaches have their pros and cons. Proprietary desktop OSes such as Microsoft Windows, Apple macOS, and Google Chrome OS all take a centralized approach. GNU/Linux has a decentralized model.

How Microsoft Windows Distributes OS Updates

Windows 10 on a Dell convertible laptop
Image Credit: Microsoft

Microsoft distributes OS updates to anyone with a Windows PC. These updates go out based on what version of Windows you run.

For most of Windows’ history, switching to a new version of the OS was expensive. This encouraged many people to continue using older versions. With Windows 10, the situation is different. Microsoft provided Windows 10 for free initially and has said that rather than release another major upgrade, the company will now focus on iterating the desktop through software updates.

Microsoft has traditionally supported popular versions of Windows well after the release of one or two successive releases. Windows 7, for example, still received updates half a decade after the release of Windows 10.

Windows Update automatically downloads updates

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and forces users to install them. This can be frustrating, but it keeps computers up to date. Just make sure you create regular backups. While unlikely, system updates can botch your installation of Windows (or any other OS for that matter).

Security Assessment

Microsoft is transparent about how long Windows releases will receive support. This helps users make informed decisions about their hardware purchases. Forced updates also keep users patched and up-to-date, protecting more of us from exploits.

Still, a large number of Windows users aren’t using Windows 10. Some are using versions that are severely out of date, making the Windows landscape as a whole a vulnerable and easy target.

How Apple macOS Distributes OS Updates

macOS on an Apple MacBook

Apple provides OS updates directly to users via a dedicated Software Update tool. Unlike Windows, macOS does not automatically update your OS, but you can turn that feature on. Manual updates give you time to backup your data before getting new software.

Apple doesn’t explicitly state how long it will support each version of macOS. Generally, the three most recent releases will receive security patches. With new versions arriving every year

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, that means you can expect roughly three years of support.

Unfortunately, the end of life for older releases can arrive at any time without any heads up or official announcement. Apple’s security updates page shows what updates have arrived but not how long they will keep coming.

This doesn’t tell the whole story. Generally speaking, there’s little reason not to upgrade to the latest version of macOS. Changes tend to be more iterative compared to the revolutionary changes that took place between Windows 7 to 8 and Windows 8 to 10. Upgrades were relatively cheap in the past, and now they’re free.

Since macOS is only available on Apple hardware, the company can explicitly list which devices it will support. Unfortunately, if your MacBook or iMac is not on the list, you’re out of luck. You must now replace macOS with Windows or Linux to have an OS with ongoing updates, even if your hardware is technically perfectly capable of running the latest version of macOS.

Security Assessment

Manual updates give you time to back up your data, but many people choose to never install updates, leaving them more vulnerable to exploits. Apple also doesn’t tell us when a given OS release will reach the end of its support period.

On the flip side, Apple generally supports a given computer model for many years. Just make sure you consistently upgrade to the latest OS. You can check out Apple’s list of obsolete products.

How Google Chrome OS Distributes OS Updates

Google Chrome OS on a Samsung convertible laptop

On a Chromebook, updates are quiet and automatic. It doesn’t matter which device you buy, if your model is supported, you will receive each update in a matter of days. Google manages most of the software experience, so Chrome OS feels the same regardless of which Chromebook you buy.

Google provides updates on a regular schedule. Maybe OS updates come roughly every six weeks, with security patches and software updates arriving twice as frequently. You have the option to turn off automatic updates if you prefer.

But Google is not transparent about how long each Chromebook or Chromebox will receive support. The company doesn’t actually base support times on operating system version (like Microsoft) or specific devices (like Apple). Instead, Chrome OS support depends on which chipset sits inside your machine. Google promises to support each chipset for six and a half years after launch.

That poses a problem. Most of us do not know what hardware lies underneath our keyboards. We can easily buy a Chromebook using a chipset that’s been around for five years already, without knowing we will only receive one and a half years of support.

Thanks to Chrome OS’s design, the danger of going without software updates is magnified. Since Chrome OS combines the web browser with the rest of the OS, when OS updates stop, your web browser will no longer receive updates. This is not the case on other platforms, where you can update apps separately.

Security Assessment:

Chrome OS strikes a nice balance between keeping users up to date with automatic updates while giving us the freedom to upgrade at our own pace by doing things manually. But the company’s support period is largely obscure and, given Chrome OS’s design, substantially more important.

How GNU/Linux Desktops Distribute OS Updates

Purism Librem 13 privacy laptop
Image Credit: Purism

We usually refer to GNU/Linux simply as Linux, but in this case it’s important to clarify things. Google’s Chrome OS is based on Linux, but how it operates is fundamentally different from other versions of Linux based on GNU software.

There are hundreds of different GNU-based desktops you can download. Most give you a degree of freedom on how you approach software updates. Generally, notifications will arrive automatically, but you must manually download and install the update. You can do so using a simple app or the command line.

How often you receive updates depends on the size of your chosen Linux distribution. You can use a given version of Linux until your machine no longer meets the minimal system requirements, which for a growing number of Linux desktops means a 64-bit processor.

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If you use a more niche version of Linux, you have a greater risk of losing access to updates due to the project ceasing to exist. Under such circumstances, you’re free to switch to another version of Linux and keep on trucking.

Security Assessment

GNU desktops have the longest support life. Your desktop will continue to work for as long as your hardware meets system requirements. And if your preferred Linux distribution does end support, you can just switch to another.

Updates are not automatic, but there are other aspects of the way free software gets distributed that have a larger impact on whether the various parts of your OS are truly up-to-date. Since software is not produced in a central location, new updates and patches may be available for months or years before the people who make your version of Linux get around to packaging and releasing them.

Which Method Is the Most Secure?

In this case, the means is less important than the ends. If you manually update your PC every day or two and keep software up-to-date, then your machine is effectively as secure as one that receives automatic updates.

Making updates automatic primarily prevents machines from going months and years without updates, becoming susceptible to long-fixed vulnerabilities that make not only those machines but, due to botnets

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, the rest of us less safe.

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1Password is changing the way enterprises secure their data

Data breaches are a nightmare for any company. The expenses for mitigation and the loss of trust from customers and clients can be devastating, even putting some companies out of business. That’s why it’s so important to put security at the very core of your enterprise; it shouldn’t be an afterthought. 

That’s where 1Password Business can help: it’s easy to implement, cost-effective, and can provide a measurable impact on security just days after roll out. 1Password Advanced Protection provides extensive monitoring tools, giving you — and not the malicious actors threatening your business —  control of your security.

The biggest security threat to companies is human error. Employees hold valuable data in their hands, and sometimes it goes astray. Whether it’s a mistake or negligence, people can’t be perfect all the time. 1Password can fill in those gaps and immediately make your company more secure.

The real key to security is having control over your sensitive information, and that’s where Advanced Protection is crucial. This new suite of security features allows administrators to examine or block logins from specific locations, IP addresses, and more. You also can set rules for Master Passwords and force two-factor authentication for all team members.

1Password Business allows you to securely share passwords across teams and departments; every member of your organization has access to the information they need when they need it. But just as crucially, 1Password Business makes it easy to ensure that only the people who need access have it, so you aren’t unnecessarily sharing sensitive information across your company.

Watchtower, included with 1Password, also plays a vital role in keeping businesses safe: it keeps track of data breaches and alerts you to compromised passwords. If one of your passwords is breached, or a site where you hold an account is hacked, Watchtower will let you know that it’s time to change your password. It also alerts you to reused passwords, insecure passwords, and weak passwords, so you know where your team’s password problems are and can easily take corrective action.

If you’re looking to increase your company’s security, join the 50,000 businesses that already use 1Password to protect their sensitive information. Learn more about what 1Password Business can do for your enterprise and request a custom quote for your company.

This story, “1Password is changing the way enterprises secure their data” was originally published by


Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Are Teslas Secure? How Hackers Can Attack Connected Cars

It seems like everything is connected to the internet these days, from kettles to doorbells. Even cars are increasingly manufactured with some degree of internet connectivity. But no cars are quite as internet-connected as Teslas.

In general, Teslas are very secure vehicles. However, whenever any kind of device is connected to the internet, even a car, it will introduce some security vulnerabilities. To show you the different ways in which security issues can affect connected cars, we’ll share some examples of how people have tried and sometimes succeeded at hacking Teslas.

Vulnerabilities in Tesla Key Fobs


Of all the ways that criminals use technology to hack or steal cars

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, one security aspect you might not consider is a key fob. Teslas have a keyless entry system. This uses a small device attached to a key ring which you carry on your person. When you approach your Tesla, it detects the key fob and unlocks the doors for you.

Cloning Attacks on Tesla Key Fobs

There have been security issues with Tesla key fobs. In 2018, researchers from the Belgium university KU Leuven announced they were able to copy a Tesla key fob.

They could wirelessly read signals from a nearby key fob, then clone a copy of it. That meant it was possible for hackers to stand near to Tesla owners and copy their keys without them knowing, then steal the car. Tesla swiftly fixed the issue with a new type of key fob which removed the vulnerability.

However, one year later in 2019, the same researchers discovered another security flaw in the new fobs. This time, the hacker had to be closer to the fob than previously and the attack took a little longer. But it could still be performed wirelessly without the target knowing.

Although Tesla had introduced more encryption in the new fobs, this was not enough to prevent the hack. The good news is that Tesla was able to patch this issue with a software update soon after news of the new hack broke.

Repeater Attacks on Tesla Key Fobs

It’s worth noting that as far as we’re aware, no one has ever used the cloning vulnerability to actually steal a Tesla. However, hackers can also perform other attacks on key fobs, such as a repeater attack.

Here, a hacker picks up the presence of a key fob from inside a Tesla owner’s house when their car is parked outside and amplifies it. This is the method that thieves likely used in a much-circulated video (above) purporting to show two people stealing a Tesla in the UK.

Hacking Tesla’s Autopilot Feature

One of the most scary ideas people have when they think about the security of internet-connected cars

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is what happens if a hacker takes control of a vehicle. Tesla’s Autopilot feature allows the car to perform some self-driving maneuvers such as cruising or changing lanes on the highway.

But in 2019, a group of Chinese hackers were able to manipulate the Autopilot feature. In a nightmare scenario for drivers, the hackers were able to take control and direct the car into oncoming traffic.

To perform the hack, the team used small, brightly colored stickers attached to the road surface. This created a “false lane” which the Tesla’s systems read as a real driving lane and followed. This all took place on a test track, but theoretically the same system could be used in the real world to direct a car into the oncoming traffic lane.

The trick here is that this hack requires changes to the outside environment around the car. It doesn’t actually target the car itself. Plus, drivers should still be attentive when using Autopilot and be ready to take control of the vehicle from the automated systems.

That means it’s not very likely to be a problem in most scenarios. Tesla thought so too, putting out a statement saying that the vulnerability was “not a realistic concern.”

Hacking a Tesla’s Entertainment System

Are Teslas Secure? How Hackers Can Attack Connected Cars tesla touchscreen

A less serious hack on Teslas was demonstrated by Team Fluoroacetate at the security event Pwn2Own in 2019. The team were able to use a bug in the car’s web browser to access the car’s firmware and run their own code. They were then able to show a message on the Tesla entertainment system.

This hack isn’t going to help anyone steal your car or cause a crash. However, it does show how any seemingly small part of a car’s software can be a security risk, even the web browser. Tesla says it is working on a software fix for this security issue.

Protecting Your Data When You Sell Your Tesla

Finally, there’s a security issue with Teslas which is not due to a vulnerability as such.

Instead, it’s due to the collection of data that you might not even think about. If you own a Tesla and later decide to sell it, you should be aware of the amount of data about you contained within the car. Just like when you sell an old PC, you should be sure to wipe the hard disk drive before passing it on to the buyer.

When you sell a connected car, you need to get rid of private data before handing it over to someone else.

In 2019 two security researchers purchased a wrecked Tesla Model 3. They were able to access the car’s computer and download all sorts of information about the previous owners. In the computer they found phonebooks with contacts’ numbers and email addresses, plus calendar entries. They were also able to see recent locations entered into the car’s navigation system. There was even video footage recorded by the vehicle’s cameras.

There is a way to delete personal information from a Tesla by performing a factory reset. This should be a reminder to Tesla owners that if their car is ever wrecked or sold, they should perform a factory reset before getting rid of the car. This will prevent anyone from accessing their data.

Connected Cars Come With Security Risks

Overall, cars today are safer than ever before. Teslas have security features which make crashes less likely and protect the people inside if they do occur. But it’s worth thinking about the ways that new technologies can create security risks.

To learn more about the risks of connected cars, see our article on terrifying scenarios that self-driving cars make possible

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The Best Ways to Secure Your SSH Server

A stylized SSH prompt in a terminal window on a laptop.
Eny Setiyowati/Shutterstock.com

Secure your Linux system’s SSH connection to protect your system and data. System administrators and home users alike need to harden and secure internet-facing computers, but SSH can be complicated. Here are ten easy quick-wins to help protect your SSH server.

SSH Security Basics

SSH stands for Secure Shell. The name “SSH” is used interchangeably to mean either the SSH protocol itself or the software tools that allow system administrators and users to make secure connections to remote computers using that protocol.

The SSH protocol is an encrypted protocol designed to give a secure connection over an insecure network, such as the internet. SSH in Linux is built on a portable version of the OpenSSH project. It is implemented in a classic client-server model, with an SSH server accepting connections from SSH clients. The client is used to connect to the server and to display the session to the remote user. The server accepts the connection and executes the session.

In its default configuration, an SSH server will listen for incoming connections on Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) port 22. Because this is a standardized, well-known port, it is a target for threat actors and malicious bots.

Threat actors launch bots that scan a range of IP addresses looking for open ports. The ports are then probed to see if there are vulnerabilities that can be exploited. Thinking, “I’m safe, there are bigger and better targets than me for the bad guys to aim at,” is false reasoning. The bots aren’t selecting targets based on any merit; they’re methodically looking for systems they can breach.

You nominate yourself as a victim if you haven’t secured your system.

Security Friction

Security friction is the irritation—of whatever degree—that users and others will experience when you implement security measures. We’ve got long memories and can remember introducing new users to a computer system, and hearing them ask in a horrified voice whether they really had to enter a password every time they logged in to the mainframe. That—to them—was security friction.

(Incidentally, the invention of the password is credited to Fernando J. Corbató, another figure in the pantheon of computer scientists whose combined work contributed to the circumstances that led to the birth of Unix.)

Introducing security measures usually involves some form of friction for someone. Business owners have to pay for it. The computer users may have to change their familiar practices, or remember another set of authentication details, or add extra steps to connect successfully. The system administrators will have additional work to do to implement and maintain the new security measures.

Hardening and locking down a Linux or Unix-like operating system can get very involved, very quickly. What we’re presenting here is a set of easy to implement steps that will improve the security of your computer without the need for third-party applications and without digging through your firewall.

These steps aren’t the final word in SSH security, but they’ll move you a long way forward from the default settings, and without too much friction.

Use SSH Protocol Version 2

In 2006, the SSH protocol was updated from version 1 to version 2. It was a significant upgrade. There were so many changes and improvements, especially around encryption and security, that version 2 is not backward compatible with version 1. To prevent connections from version 1 clients, you can stipulate that your computer will only accept connections from version 2 clients.

To do so, edit the /etc/ssh/sshd_config file. We’ll be doing this a lot throughout this article. Whenever you need to edit this file, this is the command to use:

sudo gedit /etc/ssh/sshd_config

sudo gedit /etc/ssh/sshd_config in a terminal window

Add the line:

Protocol 2

sshd_config in gedit with the edits highlighted

And save the file. We’re going to restart the SSH daemon process. Again, we’ll be doing this a lot throughout this article. This is the command to use in each case:

sudo systemctl restart sshd

sudo gedit /etc/ssh/sshd_config in a terminal window

Let’s check that our new setting is in force. We’ll hop over to a different machine and try to SSH onto our test machine. And we’ll use the -1 (protocol 1) option to force the ssh command to use protocol version 1.

ssh -1 [email protected]

ssh -1 dave@howtogeek.local in a terminal window

Great, our connection request is rejected. Let’s ensure we can still connect with protocol 2. We’ll use the -2 (protocol 2) option to prove the fact.

ssh -2 [email protected]

ssh -2 dave'howtogeek.local in a terminal window

The fact that the SSH server is requesting our password is a positive indication that the connection has been made and you are interacting with the server. Actually, because modern SSH clients will default to using protocol 2, we don’t need to specify protocol 2 as long as our client is up to date.

ssh [email protected]

ssh dave@howtogeek.local in a terminal window

And our connection is accepted. So it is only the weaker and less secure protocol 1 connections that are being rejected.

Avoid Port 22

Port 22 is the standard port for SSH connections. If you use a different port, it adds a little bit of security through obscurity to your system. Security through obscurity is never considered a true security measure, and I have railed against it in other articles. In fact, some of the smarter attack bots probe all open ports and determine which service they are carrying, rather than relying on a simple look-up list of ports and assuming they provide the usual services. But using a non-standard port can help with lowering the noise and bad traffic on port 22.

To configure a non-standard port, edit your SSH configuration file:

sudo gedit /etc/ssh/sshd_config

SSH config file in gedit with edits highlighted

Remove the hash # from the start of the “Port” line and replace the “22” with the port number of your choice.  Save your configuration file and restart the SSH daemon:

sudo systemctl restart sshd

Let’s see what effect that has had. Over on our other computer, we’ll use the ssh command to connect to our server. The ssh command defaults to using port 22:

ssh [email protected]

ssh dave@howtogeek.local in a terminal window

Our connection is refused. Let’s try again and specify port 470, using the -p (port) option:

ssh -p 479 [email protected]

ssh -p  479 dave@howtogeek.local in a terminal window

Our connection is accepted.

Filter Connections Using TCP Wrappers

TCP Wrappers is an easy to understand access control list. It allows you to exclude and permit connections based on characteristics of the connection request, such as IP address or hostname. TCP wrappers should be used in conjunction with, and not instead of, a properly configured firewall.  In our specific scenario, we can tighten things up considerably by using TCP wrappers.

TCP wrappers was already installed on the Ubuntu 18.04 LTS machine used to research this article. It had to be installed on Manjaro 18.10 and Fedora 30.

To install on Fedora, use this command:

sudo yum install tcp_wrappers

sudo yum install tcp_wrappers in a terminal window

To install on Manjaro, use this command:

sudo pacman -Syu tcp-wrappers

sudo pacman -Syu tcp-wrappers in a terminal window

There are two files involved. One holds the allowed list, and the other holds the denied list. Edit the deny list using:

sudo gedit /etc/hosts.deny

sudo gedit /etc/hosts.deny in a terminal window

This will open the gedit editor with the deny file loaded in it.

hosts.deny file loaded into gedit

You need to add the line:


And save the file. That blocks all access that hasn’t been authorized. We now need to authorize the connections you wish to accept. To do that, you need to edit the allow file:

sudo gedit /etc/hosts.allow

sudo gedit /etc/hosts.allow in a terminal window

This will open the gedit editor with the allow file loaded in it.

hosts.allow file loaded in gedit with edits highlightsd

We’ve added in the SSH daemon name, SSHD,  and the IP address of the computer we’re going to allow to make a connection. Save the file, and let’s see if the restrictions and permissions are in force.

First, we’ll try to connect from a computer that isn’t in the hosts.allow file:

SSH connection refused by TCP wrappers

The connection is refused.  We’ll now try to connect from the machine at IP address

SSH connection permitted by TCP wrappers

Our connection is accepted.

Our example here is a bit brutal—only a single computer can connect. TCP wrappers is quite versatile and more flexible than this. It supports hostnames, wildcards, and subnet masks to accept connections from ranges of IP addresses. You are encouraged to check out the man page.

Reject Connection Requests With No Passwords

Although it is a bad practice, a Linux system administrator can create a user account with no password. That means remote connection requests from that account will have no password to check against. Those connections will be accepted but unauthenticated.

The default settings for SSH accept connection requests without passwords.  We can change that very easily, and ensure all connections are authenticated.

We need to edit your SSH configuration file:

sudo gedit /etc/ssh/sshd_config

SSH config file loaded in gedit with the edits highlgihted

Scroll through the file until you see the line that reads with “#PermitEmptyPasswords no.” Remove the hash # from the start of the line and save the file. Restart the SSH daemon:

sudo systemctl restart sshd

Use SSH Keys Instead of Passwords

SSH keys provide a secure means of logging into an SSH server. Passwords can be guessed, cracked, or brute-forced. SSH keys are not open to such types of attack.

When you generate SSH keys, you create a pair of keys. One is the public key, and the other is the private key. The public key is installed on the servers you wish to connect to. The private key, as the name would suggest, is kept secure on your own computer.

SSH keys allow you to make connections without a password that are—counterintuitively—more secure than connections that use password authentication.

When you make a connection request, the remote computer uses its copy of your public key to create an encrypted message that is sent back to your computer. Because it was encrypted with your public key, your computer can unencrypt it with your private key.

Your computer then extracts some information from the message, notably the session ID, encrypts that, and sends it back to the server. If the server can decrypt it with its copy of your public key, and if the information inside the message matches what the server sent to you, your connection is confirmed to be coming from you.

Here, a connection is being made to the server at, by a user with SSH keys. Note that they are not prompted for a password.

ssh [email protected]

SSH request being authenticated by SSH key in a terminal window

SSH keys merit an article all to themselves. Handily, we have one for you. Here’s how to create and install SSH keys.

RELATED: How to Create and Install SSH Keys From the Linux Shell

Disable Password Authentication Altogether

Of course, the logical extension of using SSH keys is that if all remote users are forced to adopt them, you can turn off password authentication completely.

We need to edit your SSH configuration file:

sudo gedit /etc/ssh/sshd_config

gedit editor with the ssh config file loaded, and edits highlighted

Scroll through the file until you see the line that starts with “#PasswordAuthentication yes.” Remove the hash # from the start of the line, change the “yes” to “no”, and save the file. Restart the SSH daemon:

sudo systemctl restart sshd

Disable X11 Forwarding

X11 forwarding allows remote users to run graphical applications from your server over an SSH session. In the hands of a threat actor or malicious user, a GUI interface can make their malign purposes easier.

A standard mantra in cybersecurity is if you don’t have a bonafide reason to have it turned on, turn it off.  We’ll do so by editing your SSH configuration file:

sudo gedit /etc/ssh/sshd_config

gedit editor with the ssh config file loaded, and edits highlighted

Scroll through the file until you see the line that starts with “#X11Forwarding no.” Remove the hash # from the start of the line and save the file. Restart the SSH daemon:

sudo systemctl restart sshd

Set an Idle Timeout Value

If there is an established SSH connection to your computer, and there has been no activity on it for a period of time, it could pose a security risk. There is a chance that the user has left their desk and is busy elsewhere. Anyone else who passes by their desk can sit down and start using their computer and, via SSH, your computer.

It’s much safer to establish a timeout limit. The SSH connection will be dropped if the inactive period matches the time limit. Once more, we’ll edit your SSH configuration file:

sudo gedit /etc/ssh/sshd_config

gedit editor with the SSH config file loaded and edits highlighted

Scroll through the file until you see the line that starts with “#ClientAliveInterval 0” Remove the hash # from the start of the line, change the digit 0 to your desired value. We’ve used 300 seconds, which is 5 minutes. Save the file, and restart the SSH daemon:

sudo systemctl restart sshd

Set a Limit For Password Attempts

Defining a limit on the number of authentication attempts can help thwart password guessing and brute-force attacks. After the designated number of authentication requests, the user will be disconnected from the SSH server. By default, there is no limit. But that is quickly remedied.

Again, we need edit your SSH configuration file:

sudo gedit /etc/ssh/sshd_config

gedit editor with the ssh config file loaded, and edits highlighted

Scroll through the file until you see the line that starts with “#MaxAuthTries 0”. Remove the hash # from the start of the line, change the digit 0 to your desired value. We’ve used 3 here. Save the file when you made your changes and restart the SSH daemon:

sudo systemctl restart sshd

We can test this by attempting to connect and deliberately entering an incorrect password.

User being disconnected after two bad authentication attampts in a terminal window

Note that MaxAuthTries number seemed to be one more than the number of tries the user was permitted. After two bad attempts, our test user is disconnected. This was with MaxAuthTries set to three.

Disable Root Log Ins

It is bad practice to log in as root on your Linux computer. You should log in as a normal user and use sudo to perform actions that require root privileges. Even more so, you shouldn’t allow root to log into your SSH server. Only regular users should be allowed to connect. If they need to perform an administrative task, they should use sudo too. If you’re forced to allow a root user to log in, you can at least force them to use SSH keys.

For the final time, we’re going to have to edit your SSH configuration file:

sudo gedit /etc/ssh/sshd_config

gedit editor with the ssh config file loaded, and edits highlighted

Scroll through the file until you see the line that starts with “#PermitRootLogin prohibit-password” Remove the hash # from the start of the line.

  • If you want to prevent root from logging in at all, replace “prohibit-password” with “no”.
  • If you are going to allow root to log in but force them to use SSH keys, leave “prohibit-password” in place.

Save your changes and restart the SSH daemon:

sudo systemctl restart sshd

The Ultimate Step

Of course, if you don’t need SSH running on your computer at all, make sure it is disabled.

sudo systemctl stop sshd
sudo systemctl disable sshd

If you don’t open the window, no one can climb in.

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Lockly Secure Pro Brings a Fingerprint Reader to Your Smart Lock – Review Geek


  • 1 – Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 – Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 – Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 – Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 – Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 – Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 – Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 – Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 – Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 – Absolute Design Nirvana

Price: $299

A Lockly Secure Pro with keypad activated.
Josh Hendrickson

Between PIN, fingerprint reader, voice commands, an app, and a physical key, the Lockly Secure Pro smart lock has no shortage of ways to unlock your door. And while more options usually mean more convenience, it also means more complications.

Here’s What We Like

  • Fingerprint scanner is faster than a pin
  • App has all the customizations
  • Google Assistant Voice unlock commands!

And What We Don’t

  • Fingerprint scanner doesn’t always work
  • Jumbled keypad is a little frustrating to use
  • Wi-Fi versus Bluetooth connection app differences is annoying

Lockly’s Secure Pro is unlike other smart locks I’ve tried. It doesn’t have a standard keypad. Instead, it features a touch screen that randomly generates numbered circles for you to push.

It also features a fingerprint reader on the side so you can skip the PIN entirely, which is a faster way to unlock your door. For added convenience, the touchscreen serves as a lock button, just touch it anywhere and the door locks. With so many features, this should be one of the most convenient smart locks on the market. But it’s not quite there.

Installing is Fairly Easy for a Smart Lock

When I opened the Lockly box, I felt a little intimidated despite having installed many locks and multiple smart locks. The box includes a giant instruction booklet, complete with guides for measuring your door’s holes and cavities. The good news is, the book is a little bit overkill, I was able to install the lock without much trouble.

Typically the most challenging part of installing a smart lock is balancing the keypad and battery pack on either side of the door before you get them fully secured. The sheer weight of the two pieces will fight you and want to fall out of the door, leaving you trying to clamp them while driving screws awkwardly.

Lockly addressed that issue with two options. They added extra screw holes to the top of the two components so you can secure them directly to the door, which should add stability. I didn’t like that idea, so I went with option two: 3M sticky tape, which worked surprisingly well. Thanks to the tape, I installed the lock in 15 minutes, and without any feelings of frustration.

A Simplisafe, Wyze, and Lockly contact sensors lined up vertically on a door.
In order from top to bottom are Simplisafe, Wyze, and Lockly contact sensors. Lockly’s sensor is huge. Josh Hendrickson

After installing the lock, you plug in the included Wi-Fi hub and connect the largest contact sensor I’ve ever seen to your door. The sensor helps the lock track your door’s open and close state for automated locking.

The battery compartment hardware isn’t very inspiring. It’s plastic, which gives the lock a less premium feel. And the thumb turn is incredibly small, which is only emphasized by the giant plastic box it’s attached to. Every time I turn it to lock or unlock the door, I feel like I’m going to snap it off. To be clear, I highly doubt I could snap it off, but it feels like I could.

The outside hardware, on the other hand, screams smart gadget and feels a little more premium with its large black touchscreen that displays the keypad.

The Keypad is Unique and Mildly Frustrating

A closeup of the Lockly Secure Pro lock, showing four circles full of numbers.
You touch the circle that contains the next number of your PIN, not a number itself. Josh Hendrickson

One of the most unusual aspects of this smart lock is the keypad. Instead of a standard 1-9 keypad for typing codes, you get a random set of numbers on the touchscreen every time it activates. The lock groups the numbers in circles, and you touch those circles (not the number) to enter your code. The next time you use the keypad, the lock will jumble the numbers in the circles.

That means no one can peek from nearby to learn your code. Even if someone were standing directly next to you, they wouldn’t learn your PIN since your touching circles full of numbers. In theory, this works well to prevent PIN theft. In practice, it feels like overkill, especially on my relatively quiet street. I don’t have to worry about anyone trying to spy on my keypad. But I could see the potential usefulness if you installed this lock on an apartment or condo door (whether or not you’d be allowed is another matter). That’s a scenario where someone might have a legitimate reason to be standing close enough to see your type in a PIN.

It’s not very much benefit for me, and using the keypad is a pain. Every time I type my PIN, I have to spend a few moments figuring out where my numbers are now. Did you slip up and hit a wrong circle? Well, they’ll jumble again. It’s mildly annoying. That Lockly requires a six-digit key only adds to that time spent, though admittedly, a six-digit key is more secure than the standard four-digit PIN most smart locks allow.

My family is less patient than I am. When I told them I was writing this review and would soon take the lock off the door, they cheered. They’d rather have a standard keypad that’s simple to use.

A side shot of the Lockly lock, showing a round finger print reader.
When it works, this fingerprint reader is the best part of the lock. Josh Hendrickson

The fingerprint reader, on the other hand, bypasses all that frustration—usually. I try to use this every time instead of the keypad. When it works, it’s great. I put my finger on, and within a second, the door unlocks. That’s faster than a standard PIN on other smart locks.

But you’ll notice the words “when it works.” About 85 percent of the time, the fingerprint reader unlocks the door nearly instantly. But the rest of the time, it doesn’t accept my fingerprint. Sometimes I’ll get lucky if I try again. But usually, the second attempt fails, too, and I have to use the keypad. On those occasions, I’m left frustrated because now I’ve spent a lot of time trying to unlock my door.

In a lot of ways, that’s the story of Lockly Secure Pro: when it works, it’s great. But the clever add-ons lead to moments of frustrations.

When it’s time to lock the door as you’re leaving, just touch the keypad anywhere, and the door will lock. That’s handy for when you’re in a hurry to leave, and you don’t have to spend time searching for a lock button in the dark. But it also meant I occasionally “locked the door” with the door open while I was walking into the house because my hand or arm brushed the screen. So I had to stop, unlock the door, then close it.

Once again, when it works, I like it; when it doesn’t, I’m frustrated. By default, the door locks itself shortly after you unlock it. The door sensor should let the lock know when you close the door, but sometimes that didn’t work correctly, and the lock engaged while the door was open. Thankfully, you can turn that and other features off in the app.

A Competent App Held Up By Two Wireless Standards

The Lockly app, showing locking screen, code access creation, and settings.
You can change nearly any setting you want, as long as you connect to Bluetooth first.

You can’t ask for more controls and options in a smart lock app. The Lockly app (available for iOS and Android) lets you change just about any setting you want. You don’t like that touching the keypad locks the door? You can turn that off. Do you find all the beeps the locks makes when using the app annoying? You can turn that off. Want the keypad to jumble the numbers after every circle push? You can make it do that if you really want to. The only thing you can’t turn off that I would have liked is the keypad scramble feature. You’re stuck with that for better or worse.

You even get the usual smart lock features: remote lock and unlock, ability to generate PINs, and in this case, the ability to create fingerprint scans.

Another thing I like is code generation: You can choose between trusted users, guests, and one-time access PINs. Trusted users keep their codes until you revoke them. You can set guest users to expire automatically and to work just during the times you allow. And one-time access PINs expire immediately after the first use. Lockly lets you generate codes that only by downloading the app, or “offline codes” that are just standard six-digit PINs you tell or text to the person. It’s a lot choice, and the app does good of letting which options does exactly what.

Altogether it’s a well put together app, barring one exception: you can either connect to the lock via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is great for remote access when you’re away from your door. But for some reason, Wi-Fi can’t do everything that Bluetooth can. If the app notifies you of a firmware update, for instance, you’ll need to switch back to Bluetooth to install it. The Bluetooth connection has a very short range, though, so I often need to use the Wi-Fi connection. I never know which connection I need to be in to make changes, and that’s frustrating.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Alexa and Google Assistant integrations. When it comes to Alexa, you get what you’d expect out of it. You can lock by voice and unlock by voice with a PIN. By default, unlocking by voice is off.

Google Assistant integration, on the other hand, is something special. Google doesn’t provide much in the way of APIs for locks, and usually, the best you can do is check on the status of the lock and maybe lock the door by voice. It’s up to the company to implement anything more.

And Lockly went above and beyond here; the company added an unlock by voice feature, using a PIN. It’s fast, reliable, and works well. And that makes it the only lock I’ve tested yet with unlocking capabilities for Google Assistant. That’s a massive win if you’re in a Google Home.

The Lockly Secure Pro is Mostly Good

The inside components to the Lockly smart lock, with a quarter just over the thumb turn, showing a relatively similar size.
This thumb turn is just so small. Josh Hendrickson

Overall the Lockly Secure Pro isn’t a perfect lock. I’m not in love with the plastic hardware or the jumbling PN scheme. But I do love the fingerprint scanner—when it works. It falls short of being a great lock for me, in part because I don’t benefit from some of its most unique features.

But if you do worry about someone watching you type in a PIN, you might like this lock a lot. It does a great job of obfuscating your passcode even as you type it. If you think a Wi-Fi lock is another avenue of access for the bad guys, you can leave the Wi-Fi hub unplugged. And if you don’t like any of the default settings, there’s a decent chance you can change its behavior in the app.

Just keep in mind, you’re paying a premium for those extra security features. At $300, this smart lock costs $50 or more than other great smart lock options like the Schlage Encode, the Kwikset Kevo, or the Yale Assure lock. And the Schlage Encode includes a built-in Wi-Fi hub, which is one more reason it’s nearly perfect.

If a customizable smart lock with PIN protection and fingerprint reader sounds like your idea of a smart lock, then you should undoubtedly consider the Lockly Secure Pro. That goes double if you want the most voice control possible with Google Assistant. But if you want something with more simplicity, you should look elsewhere. You might even save money in the process.

Rating: 7.5/10

Price: $299

Here’s What We Like

  • Fingerprint scanner is faster than a pin
  • App has all the customizations
  • Google Assistant Voice unlock commands!

And What We Don’t

  • Fingerprint scanner doesn’t always work
  • Jumbled keypad is a little frustrating to use
  • Wi-Fi versus Bluetooth connection app differences is annoying

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SurfShark VPN Makes Torrenting Easy and Secure, Now 76% Off

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Secure Your Online World With a Lifetime Subscription to VPN Unlimited

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Can you be mobile AND secure?

Most companies today allow their workforce to employ mobile devices to access corporate back office systems (e.g., email, sale force automation, ERP, HR, data collection, form filling, collaboration, etc.). And while these devices can be convenient, it’s important that organizations know how to maximize the security of these corporately connected devices – both devices furnished by the company and through Bring Your Own Device (BYOD).

In fact, many companies I speak with say that they believe (or are unaware of) any mobile data breaches within their organization. Research we’ve done at J.Gold Associates shows that IT believes about 65 percent of mobile devices have never had a breach or are unaware of one happening (e.g., lost, stolen, attacked by malware), while greater than 50 percent of end users admit to having a breach on their device, although not all exposed corporate data, and most never got reported to IT.

Despite the security challenges mobile devices create, there is no going back. Users demand corporate access from their smartphones (and in some cases tablets), and companies benefit from this access with increased efficiency, better use of time and improved user experience. Indeed, millennials and other digital natives often require a “mobile first”, or even “mobile only” approach when accessing enterprise back office application.

But companies should not be blind to the fact that mobile devices, especially newer devices with massive amounts of onboard storage capability, can present a security threat. 

What should companies do?

It’s no longer possible for companies to turn a blind eye and hope for the best ….. 

Most companies today allow their workforce to employ mobile devices to access corporate back office systems (e.g., email, sale force automation, ERP, HR, data collection, form filling, collaboration, etc.). And while these devices can be convenient, it’s important that organizations know how to maximize the security of these corporately connected devices – both devices furnished by the company and through Bring Your Own Device (BYOD).

In fact, many companies I speak with say that they believe (or are unaware of) any mobile data breaches within their organization. Research we’ve done at J.Gold Associates shows that IT believes about 65 percent of mobile devices have never had a breach or are unaware of one happening (e.g., lost, stolen, attacked by malware), while greater than 50 percent of end users admit to having a breach on their device, although not all exposed corporate data, and most never got reported to IT.

Despite the security challenges mobile devices create, there is no going back. Users demand corporate access from their smartphones (and in some cases tablets), and companies benefit from this access with increased efficiency, better use of time and improved user experience. Indeed, millennials and other digital natives often require a “mobile first”, or even “mobile only” approach when accessing enterprise back office application.

But companies should not be blind to the fact that mobile devices, especially newer devices with massive amounts of onboard storage capability, can present a security threat. This is true in virtually all industries, but is especially problematic in regulated industries. Many companies I speak to have no idea what kind of data or how much data users have loaded onto their personal mobile devices.  Enterprises must have a strategy in place to deal with mobile security and not just hope for the best.

What should companies do?

It’s no longer possible for companies to turn a blind eye and hope for the best. Companies must have a sound mobile security strategy, but this strategy should be an extension of existing corporate security strategy, and not stand alone specifically for mobile devices. This is the only way to rationalize security across all users and devices in the organization.

Companies should place responsibility for mobile security into the same group where the rest of corporate security resides, even though there will be some special skills required specifically to handle mobile. Nevertheless, its imperative that a unified security strategy take hold, especially since there is a such a preponderance or work being done on mobile devices today, and I expect it to continue to grow (indeed, in some companies, as much as 50 percent or more of corporate interactions are now being done through mobile devices).

While there are several enterprise-class third-party security products targeted at mobile devices (e.g., Lookout, Zimperium, Cylance), deploying such services in a vacuum offers less protection that doing so strategically. And deploying mobile security must first and foremost be built on top of a robust mobile management capability.

Many traditional mobile management vendors have now moved to a Unified Endpoint Management (UEM) approach to allow for a combined mobile and PC management approach (e.g., BlackBerry, Citrix, IBM, MobileIron, Vmware), but even if your organization only deploys the more basic Enterprise Mobile Management (EMM) suite of products, it is imperative that this device management capability be closely coupled to any add-on specialized security products. In fact, I estimate the effectiveness of third-party security apps without a robust EMM/UEM suite to monitor and manage them reduces their capabilities by 50-65 percent.

Companies like BlackBerry that has a robust mobile management platform, has seen the writing on the wall and recently acquired Cylance to add a mobile (and other devices) security component which they are in process of integrating into their suite. IBM MaaS360 is coupling its EMM platform with its suite of software services and tools like Watson.

Others (e.g., VMware, Citrix, Microsoft) have partnered with others to create a synergistic unified management and security capability. I expect to see more security acquisitions going forward as UEM and mobile security become even more closely intertwined, and the UEM vendors see this as a strategic need to stay competitive as more mobile management capability make their way into enterprise apps suites.

Are there platform differences between Android and iOS?

Yes. Android and iOS are uniquely distinct when it comes to device security, although despite some claims to the contrary, both platforms have had malware attacks. The biggest challenge is in keeping older devices secure. In the Android-supported environment, there can be as many as 3-5 generations of older Android version in service, primarily on older devices that have never been upgraded, or cannot be. In fairness to Apple, this is less of an issue as most Apple devices several generations old get the OS upgraded once it is release.

Apple makes sure to create a backwards compatible OS, while Google allows the device manufactures to decide if they will allow OS upgrades for older devices (this is beginning to change as Google enforces an upgrade policy, but doesn’t help the existing older devices already in service).

I recommend that companies supporting Android device not allow any devices more than two generation behind in the least version of the OS onto its corporate networks. This can be monitored and enforced by the EMM/UEM suite. In a BYOD environment this may be problematic as companies have much less say in what devices users acquire.

Nevertheless, I encourage companies to enforce the policy and require even BYOD users to have current OS powered products as much as possible. Security feature enhancements are perhaps the biggest reason Android is being upgraded regularly. With BYOD iOS devices, this is less of an issue as indicated earlier.

Still, monitoring and enforcing a current OS strategy is a great enhancement to a security posture within the company. And third party tools on older devices, while helpful, should not be a substitute for having up to date instances of the OS. As a final protection, I recommend organizations, especially in regulated industries, to deploy enhanced Android secured devices, either from Samsung with their Knox features, or with Android for Enterprise added security features available from several smartphone vendors.

Bottom Line: First and foremost in maximizing mobile security, enterprises must enable robust mobile device management to set profiles, enforce polices and manage access as a minimal requirement before deploying additional capabilities. Once such capabilities are in place, enterprises should look to supplement existing EMM/UEM with specific add-ons to further prevent data breaches and malware.

Organizations should also require up to date devices with current OSes to minimize any potential for malware attacks and data breaches. Finally, companies must have a total security strategy that encompasses mobile devices and mobile work, rather than a standalone security strategy for mobile alone. Without these steps, we will be seeing many more mobile data breaches in the near future.

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