Today’s laptops and tablets are powerful and portable, which is why many are choosing to use these devices for their everyday activities. This is especially true for businesses who like to create mobile solutions for their employees. While these devices may be convenient and affordable, they also pose several security risks that you should be aware of. Their size and portability make them excellent targets for thieves. Beyond theft of the device itself, loss of the information it holds may be even more costly.
Most Common Threats
Below are some of the most common threats found on Windows devices:
Keystroke loggers are pieces of software that record all or part of your keystrokes. This can include passwords, usernames, and credit card numbers. If a keystroke logger is installed on your laptop, criminals can use it to steal personal/confidential information from you or your organization.
Cached credentials are saved by the operating system, usually to make logging in easier. If you have ever used a public Wi-Fi network, your device may have cached the password of the network so that it can connect more quickly in the future.
If an attacker gains access to these credentials, they can use them to log into your computer or other devices that you use. This would allow them to gain access to any information stored on those devices and networks.
Malware is a general term for any software that can access your computer to cause harm. Malware can include viruses, worms, Trojan horses, and other types of malicious software (often called “malware”). Malware can be installed on your computer in many different ways:
- Visiting an infected website
- Downloading an infected file from the internet
- Opening an email or text message with malware attached
Computer viruses are malicious software that infects computers and other devices, such as smartphones, tablets, and smartwatches. A virus can be spread through email attachments, USB sticks, and other removable media.
Once installed, an infected computer may:
- Steal information from the infected machines (e.g., personal or credit card data)
- Make copies of itself onto any available locations (e.g., USB drives, network drives, etc.), which makes it easy to spread further.
Viruses that self-replicate are often called computer worms. These worms can spread through networks, usually by exploiting security vulnerabilities. They can be used to steal information or to destroy data; they’re often used as a precursor to targeted attacks or as part of larger campaigns.
Rootkits are a type of malware that is designed to hide from the user and other applications. They can be installed in multiple ways, including by viruses, trojans, or worms. But rootkits can also be installed by hackers who have gained access to your computer, which makes them particularly dangerous.
When a rootkit is installed on your computer, it will take over some aspect of its operation (the file system is often targeted). This allows the attacker to install other software without your knowledge and modify the behavior of existing applications so they do not show any signs that something has happened to your computer.
Trojan horses are commonly used to steal information and can be a major security threat. These threats are often disguised as legitimate software, but they are malicious programs that attack the system. They can be spread through email attachments or by downloading an infected file from one’s computer.
Adware is software that displays ads on your computer. It is usually bundled with other software, and it’s difficult to remove in many cases. Adware can be a threat to your privacy when it collects information about the websites you visit or the items you purchase online—information that may be shared with third parties or sold for profit.
Adware can also present a security threat by collecting sensitive data like passwords, credit card numbers, and Social Security numbers without your permission. In addition to being able to track this information after it has been collected, the adware can also use any of these pieces of data for malicious purposes: identity theft, phishing scams, spamming (sending unsolicited emails); malware distribution; etc.
Spyware is a type of malicious software that tracks your movements on the web. It may gather information about your browsing habits, as well as information about your computer and your location. Spyware can be installed by a virus or a hacker without you knowing it, so it’s important to be vigilant.
Ways to protect your laptop
To protect your laptop, you should:
- If you’re running the Pro version of Windows, you can enable BitLocker to encrypt your disk. The encryption keys are stored to your Microsoft account. If your laptop is stolen or lost, having an encrypted drive will prevent anyone without credentials from accessing the data on it.
- Use a password manager to create strong passwords and keep them secure.
- Take advantage of multi-factor authentication for any sensitive applications that use it (for example, Microsoft Office 365).
- Microsoft now allows users to go ‘Passwordless’ using Microsoft Authenticator, a security key, or biometric authentication (camera, fingerprint, etc.)
- Install a firewall and use it to block unauthorized access to your entire network.
- Use anti-virus software, anti-malware software, or an Endpoint Detection and Response Application on every device connected to the network. If you are a Microsoft 365 subscriber, Microsoft Defender is now free with your subscription.
- Only connect to secure and known WiFi. If you must use an insecure WiFi connection, use a VPN service to encrypt and protect your connection.
- Always keep your software up to date. This includes regular Windows updates as well as other programs that you have installed. If possible, set your applications to automatically update.
The steps above will go a long way to restricting unauthorized access when in use, protecting not just your files and data, it will help prevent WiFi and other credentials from being compromised.
Finally, when it is time to discard your Windows laptop, we recommend contacting an IT Asset Disposition (ITAD) specialist to ensure that the data is completely inaccessible.
Without proper disposition, user, network, and other proprietary data is at risk. Someone with access to the device could compromise security using valid credentials, access company resources, or build a profile that would allow them to phish for even more data.
Any Windows laptop that houses company data or is used to connect to company resources must be securely disposed of by an ITAD specialist. Even laptops not designated for company use will still have information about the user, their network, the sites they visit, and any cached credentials and documents, possibly even deleted ones. Whenever you are discarding a Windows laptop, you should use an ITAD specialist to ensure there is no personal or company information left on that device.
Developing good cyber habits are key to continued risk avoidance and data compromise.
As we have stated above, while you are using your Windows laptop, remain vigilant and cautious to protect yourself and your data. When you are done with it, an ITAD specialist will take the same care to prevent unauthorized data access in the future.