Three Surprising Holiday Gifts to Yourself

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The holidays are just around the corner, and that means it’s time to start looking for that perfect gift for yourself. (and maybe a few ideas for others, as well).

So what do your friends and loved ones really need? One thing they could definitely use is better ways to protect their security and privacy – at home and online.

Chances are, this gift idea hasn’t occurred to you before. Far too many people just don’t think about security until they’ve already been the victims of a break-in or a data breach, and by then, it’s too late. To protect yourself and your loved ones, you need to get proactive.

Here are three gift ideas that will help all the people on your list stay safe in the new year. They’re not typical gifts, but they’re useful ones that (hopefully) won’t be regifted.

New Smartphone

If someone on your list has been limping along with the same old smartphone for close to a three years, it’s time to treat them to a new one. That old dinosaur of a phone probably isn’t being updated anymore, and that makes it a security risk. To stay secure, they need to upgrade.

How can you tell which phones are out of date? Here’s a quick guide for some top brands:

  • Apple iPhone. The iPhone 5 and 5C, as well as all older models, cannot run iOS 12, the latest version of iOS. Unfortunately, upgrading from one of these models to a brand-new iPhone will cost a bundle. The cheapest new phone available from Apple is the iPhone 7, which starts at $449. You can save a lot by choosing a refurbished previous generation iPhone instead. It’s not sexy, but you can find a refurbished iPhone 6 for as little as $140 on eBay.

  • Google Android smartphones have an even shorter shelf life than iPhones. According to The Verge, Google only requires manufacturers to provide regular updates on popular models for at least two years. If the phone is no longer getting monthly updates – like Samsung’s Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge – it’s time for an upgrade. Here, again, you can save big money by choosing a refurbished phone to replace it. The cheapest new Samsung Galaxy S8 costs $520 on Amazon, but you can get a refurbished S8 for $260 on eBay or a refurbished Galaxy S7 for just $144. Both can be updated to Android 8.0 Oreo, the latest version.
  • Google Pixel. Unlike most Android phones, Google’s Pixel phones are required to get security updates for at least 3 years from the date they first became available. For phones older than that, updates are no longer guaranteed. (Read: Forget about them.) To replace an older Pixel, we’d recommend a Pixel 2; it’s $619 new on Amazon, but as little as $215 refurbished.

New Wireless Router

If you’re like most people, you use Wi-Fi every day without ever thinking about that hidden-away box you’re relying on to make your connection. That’s a big mistake, because your wireless router is your frontline defense against getting hacked.

Because routers are always connected to the Internet, they’re a prime target for cybercriminals. Taking over the router gives them access to everything in your home or business. They can use it to:

  • Send you spam
  • Steal your usernames, passwords, and credit card numbers
  • Read your e-mail
  • Spy on all traffic in your network
  • Sell illegal things
  • Tunnel darkweb traffic
  • Attack other websites

Unfortunately, most routers require manual firmware updates, and there’s often nothing to remind you when it’s time to update. Thus, most people – even computer experts – never do it or do not remember to do it, leaving themselves vulnerable. This site lists many routers that have critical vulnerabilities.

To fix this problem, look for a router that updates itself automatically. Consumer Reports names several choices:

  • The Linksys AC2600, its top-rated model
  • Any Netgear router made after 2017
  • Eero
  • Google WiFi
  • Luma

Choose a newer model, since some older ones are no longer updated. The Google WiFi 3 pack, for $249.99 at Amazon, is a good choice. Along with its automatic updates, it gives you seamless, Wi-Fi coverage throughout your home (up to 4,500 square feet) with fewer dead spots. It also boasts speeds of up to 5 GHz.

Security Camera

While you’re helping your friends and loved ones stay safe online, why not protect them at home? A security camera is a great tool to provide security and peace of mind while they’re out or on vacation.

Here’s what to look for in a security camera:

  • Reliable Brand. Don’t be tempted by cheap no-name cameras like the made-in-Asia cam. Firmware on these cheap cameras isn’t updated as often, leaving gaping security holes. Mashable reports that it’s possible to hack into some with just a $28 piece of software. Stick with trusted brands like Ring, Nest, Logitech, Arlo, Amazon, and Blink.
  • Auto Updates. Frequent firmware updates are no help if you don’t install them. To avoid letting this crucial task slip, automatic updates are a must-have.
  • Smart Home Compatible. Look for a camera that can integrate with other smart home devices, like the Nest thermostat, and smart assistants like Alexa or Google Assistant.
  • Easy Installation. Your friends will curse you rather than thank you if they spend Christmas night struggling to set up the new camera. Choose one that’s easy to fit into a variety of spaces.
  • A camera’s not much use if it only shows a fuzzy blob that could be a burglar or a deer. An HD camera will give you a clear view of what’s inside or outside your home.
  • Look for one that has reasonably priced Cloud storage for recent video.

Two choices that tick off all these boxes are the indoor Nest Security camera ($172 on Amazon) and the Nest Camera Outdoor 2 pack ($277 on Amazon). Their features include:

  • 1080p HD
  • Work with other Nest devices
  • Send alerts through a phone app when they sense motion
  • Store 10 to 30 days of video history in the cloud, where you can search it later
  • Outdoor cameras are weatherproof

Whatever camera you buy, the first thing to do after setting it up is create a new password. Many new cameras come with the same default password, making them easy to hack into if it stays unchanged.

 

Happy holidays to all, and to all a safe and secure New Year!

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