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Don't Let New Tech Toys Make You Sing the Post-Holiday Blues

Don't Let New Tech Toys Make You Sing the Post-Holiday Blues

Gaming consoles, smart watches, Wi-Fi enabled dolls and toys, fitness trackers, toys with microphones and cameras, TVs, laptops, and tablets were among this past holiday season’s hottest gifts, to the tune of roughly 34.2 billion dollars. The Consumer Electronics Association projected that 160 million of us would give high tech gadgets as gifts in 2015. And these gadgets, according to the anti-malware company Emsisoft, could turn out to be the gifts that keep on giving--but not in a good way. If you are one of the hordes of Americans who gave or received tech products for the holidays this year, take heed. That cutting edge gift could end up cutting into your privacy (or your child’s), as well as your bank accounts.

Data breaches suffered by tech giant Sony and, more recently, VTech may have faded from public consciousness. However, they still have relevance, especially now, as many of us bask in the glow of the shiny new tech toys we acquired only a few short weeks ago. Even though the Sony debacle, in which millions of Playstation network users’ personal information was stolen, happened way back in 2011, security concerns still loom today. Apparently, as reported on emsisoft.com, a recent hacking attempt revealed vulnerabilities in Sony’s security system. And, while the VTech hack has not, to date, led to significant cases of identity theft for users of its products, we should all look to it as a cautionary tale. Hackers managed to delve into five million accounts containing children’s personal information. That ought to make us all think twice before handing those tablets over to our kids willy-nilly.

Scary stuff, for sure, but alarmism and fear mongering are not the ultimate goals of this article. Rather, the intention is to raise awareness and to equip you with tools to prevent unfortunate losses. So with that in mind, here are a few tips to help you enjoy your gifts safely.

  1. Make sure your home Wi-Fi network is both encrypted and password protected. This is your first line of defense. Your second is to limit your Wi-Fi usage to only your home network and others who have taken proper security precautions, including the aforementioned encryption and password protection. Avoid public and “open” Wi-Fi connections, which may enable criminals to steal personal information from your computer and mobile devices.
  2. Adjust settings on mobile devices and internet enabled gadgets so that they don’t automatically connect to any nearby available Wi-Fi.
  3. Turn off the Wi-Fi on devices while away from home and whenever you don’t need it.
  4. Install virus and malware protection software on all web browsing devices.  Smart phones and tablets are just as vulnerable as your computer to devastating spyware and other nasty viruses.
  5. Never download apps from unknown sources. Only download those that have been tried and tested from trustworthy and reputable sources such as the Google Play store or Apple’s app store. Teach your children to do the same. Also, keep apps updated to ensure the latest security vulnerabilities have been addressed.
  6. Block ‘in-app’ purchases on the games your children play to prevent accidental or unwanted charges to your credit card or bank account.
  7. Be selective about the information you provide when setting up accounts for new toys, gadgets, or games. Never give financial information or social security numbers without confirming a valid reason for doing so. Whenever possible, opt out of having personal information shared with third parties.
  8. If your child uses an item with internet access for any significant amount of time, restrict the range of activity and information it is allowed to broadcast on the internet. If you allow your kids to use it for online interaction make sure they are only able to connect with people you can trust.
  9. Be sure to turn gaming consoles completely off when you are not playing with them. Turning “off” some consoles may only result in switching them to standby mode. Internet activity can continue without your direct involvement while a console is in Standby. Security experts actually recommend unplugging both the power and Ethernet cables as the only way to guarantee your console is totally off.
  10. Change passwords. This will be especially necessary if you have already set up accounts for new items without proper precautions (e.g., most of the previously mentioned tips) in place.

Certainly, that’s not a comprehensive list of everything you can possibly do to ensure your personal information will never be compromised, but it provides a good starting point. And here’s a bonus tip: Many electronic toys have been branded with a check mark that supposedly indicates the toy is “safe” for internet use. Experts say such labeling is nothing more than a marketing ploy that provides only a false sense of security, so you should still take the suggested precautionary measures before using these toys. In terms of cyber security, there is basically no such thing as an inherently “safe” internet-enabled toy.

Feel free to share any additional tips you know of in the comments section below. Here’s to a happy and safe 2016!

 

Sources: 10 News WTSP, Consumer Technology Association, emsisoft.com, The Wichita Eagle

 

 

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Comments 2

Wanderer on Wednesday, 13 January 2016 05:23

Great post! A real "heads up" on what may be lurking in the electronic world for privacy invasions.

Great post! A real "heads up" on what may be lurking in the electronic world for privacy invasions.
Frank on Thursday, 14 January 2016 10:50

Agreed, great information Allison. I agree the media can portray some of this information as over the top and over alarm people, but those are very easy steps for anyone to do. I plan on doing them myself this weekend!

Agreed, great information Allison. I agree the media can portray some of this information as over the top and over alarm people, but those are very easy steps for anyone to do. I plan on doing them myself this weekend!
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