Are you taking the right steps to protect yourself online?

Recently, I’ve seen a lot of college students covering the camera on their laptop. I’m still deciding whether I care if a hacker or the government is watching me while I read my email and develop websites and apps. The person sitting across the coffee shop or next to me in class is watching me too. And what are the chances someone is really watching me?

I understand why people are worried though, especially since they don’t really know how the technology they’re using works. The thing people don’t seem to understand is that Apple is trying to protect you from malware and security vulnerabilities with every macOS release and the security updates that follow it.

Google’s definition of “Malware”

As this Mashable article puts it, malware can, in theory, take over your computer’s camera.

Hackers can access … cameras through malware. If you accidentally click a bad link or download the wrong file, that malware could contain executable code to turn on your webcam and send that video feed to a website or save it somewhere else.

This means you should be really careful with what you download and install from random sites on the internet. I’ve seen several college students with malicious Chrome extensions, or other malware from software they carelessly downloaded.

Software Updates

Apple clearly states that you should always be updating your Mac and your iPhone:

Keeping your software up to date is one of the most important things you can do to maintain your Apple product’s security.

I’ve started asking my friends and fellow students what version of macOS they’re running. Most are running the same version that was shipped with their computer when they purchased it 2–3 years ago. I’ve seen many people still running 10.9 or 10.10, even though macOS is currently on 10.12.

You can easily see what version you’re running by going to “About This Mac” under the  menu.

I did an informal Twitter poll and a Google Forms poll on Facebook to see who has actually had malware issues with their Mac:

The answers are consistent across the polls. Most people don’t get malware, and only 4–6% of those who answered my polls have ever had malware while running the latest operating system.

I also ran two polls to see what version of macOS people are running on their primary computer:

Running either of the most recent two macOS releases (Sierra and El Capitan) is probably fine, as long as you keep on top of the security updates. If you’re running less than 10.11.6, I would recommend updating your computer. Similarly, if you’re a version of iOS older than 9.3.5 you should probably update your device.

Passwords

Another thing I don’t see people considering is the strength and variation in their passwords. I’ve seen many college students (and others) with passwords that are easily guessable, like the name of their street or town. Protecting your computer and phone through strong passwords is really important. Furthermore, protecting your countless online accounts, like Gmail, Dropbox, Facebook, and more is equally as important. If one of your accounts is compromised you can lose valuable data without even knowing.

I highly recommend using a password manager to store your secure passwords so you don’t have to remember a different strong password for everything you use. I use 1Password on my Mac and iPhone and I love it.

iMore explains this well in their review of the different password management options:

Easily remembered, broadly repeated passwords are for suckers. Writing them down to type back in, or copy/pasting them each time is not only a hassle, it’s a disaster waiting to happen.

So how can you better protect yourself?

  • Update your Mac and iOS devices to the latest operating system version. This doesn’t need to be the first day, but it should be in the first few months.
  • Update your web browser to the latest version. Chrome usually does this automatically, and Safari updates are included with macOS.
  • Pay attention to what you’re downloading. What URL is it coming from? Does Apple warn you it’s not signed by an approved developer when you try to open it?
  • Use strong and varied passwords. Your passwords shouldn’t be something related to your life, and your security question answers should not be guessable.

If you aren’t doing these things, covering your web cam might help a little, but it won’t protect you against anything else, like someone recording you with your microphone.


Those are just my thoughts on the subject of security and privacy. I’m not an expert, and I’m aware that updating software, strong passwords, and being careful on the internet does not give you total protection from malware.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, questions, and feedback here or through Twitter: @evansobkowicz.

You can read more about the latest security features in macOS Sierra and/or update to the latest version of macOS through the Mac App Store. On iOS, you can update through Settings > General > Software Update.