6 techniques to keep your holiday gifts hacker-proof

Hackers will target anything to get your personal information, including your holiday presents. Use these few quick security tweaks to make sure your high-tech presents stay secure this holiday season.

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  • As the holidays get closer, it becomes clear how vital technology is to our everyday lives. Many holiday wish-lists include some kind of high-tech toy with connectivity capabilities. But as you're going about your holiday shopping, have you stopped to consider how secure these gadgets really are?

  • Hackers will target anything to get your personal information, including your holiday presents. And without proper precautions, some popular high-tech gifts—especially those with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities—can become gateways into your private data.

  • Luckily, you can take steps to decrease the risk of a breach. Use these few quick security tweaks to make sure your high-tech presents stay secure this holiday season.

  • 1. Keep your firmware updated

  • Firmware is the basic code that manufacturers program into devices. It's in nearly all electronics including your smartwatch, laptop and tablet. It's also one of the most vulnerable entry-points in any gadget.

  • While it isn't easy for an average hacker to access the firmware on your devices, it can be devastating when they do. And factory resets and system wipes won't remove the embedded malware.

  • To keep your devices secure, check their manufacturers' websites regularly and update the firmware whenever possible. Regular system software updates also provide an extra layer of security.

  • 2. Lock down your Bluetooth

  • Bluetooth is a major vulnerability because just about anyone can latch onto your device if they have the proper know-how. Smartwatches and fitness trackers normally don't store vital information, but their Bluetooth connections can lead back to your core devices like your laptop or desktop computer. Hackers use these leads to access your personal data and compromise your security.

  • Covering this weakness is fairly simple. First, turn Bluetooth off when it's not in use. Second, where possible, limit the visibility of your Bluetooth connection. Many devices have the option to make Bluetooth "invisible," which means that your connection won't be easily discovered.

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  • 3. Change your passwords

  • Weak passwords can leave you open to potential attacks. To decrease that risk, set complex passwords on all of your accounts and connections. That way, even if hackers breach your devices, they won't have automatic access to all of your sensitive data.

  • Keep in mind that a good password is longer than eight characters and includes a good mix of uppercase and lowercase letters as well as numbers and symbols. Make sure your password has no personal connection to you because things like birthdays or phone numbers can be easily discovered online.

  • Don't forget to set a pin or password on your smartphone or tablet, too. The more barriers you put up around your information, the less vulnerable you'll be.

  • 4. Stay away from public Wi-Fi

  • Unencrypted public Wi-Fi connections are wide open to hackers. There is very little to stop other people from sniffing out your login credentials when they're on the same network as you. The high volume of users and the relative anonymity of public networks also make it difficult to track potential criminals.

  • Stick to wireless data if you're on a smartphone, or buy a wireless hotspot if you need consistent and quick Internet access. It may be a hassle, but the security benefits will be worth it in the long run.

  • 5. Download antivirus software

  • Antivirus isn't a magic cure-all, but it can certainly make it harder for hackers to target you. By installing it on your core devices and running regular scans, you can avoid Trojans (hackers disguised as something else) and malware that would otherwise have easier access.

  • Android and Windows devices offer a variety of antivirus options. Apple products are updated frequently and carefully policed, meaning they're less vulnerable to such virus attacks in the first place.

  • 6. Be aware

  • Staying safe online requires a lot of caution. Hackers rarely limit themselves to just a few tactics, and many will try just about anything to get to your vital information—including making fake phone calls or sending falsified emails asking for your personal information. These attacks are hard to trace and can be done anonymously.

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  • When hackers can't gain access through your software, they often resort to social engineering methods instead. Be wary of whom you give information to and verify suspicious requests from soliciting companies.

  • Becoming informed is the first step to preventing a catastrophe. By staying aware of the risks associated with technology and taking the steps necessary to safeguard your high-tech gifts, you can stop hackers from potentially ruining your holiday season.

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Sarah lives in Utah and has her MA in Rhetoric, Composition, and Professional Communication from Iowa State. She freelances and teaches speech and writing courses. You can find Sarah on Twitter .

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