'Tis the season for mistletoe, holiday parties, twinkling lights, and... security breaches? Yup, that's right. December doesn't just bring crisp weather and frantic shopping, it's also a yearly high point for hacking, computer infections, and data theft.

It's not hard to see why. With more and more of us shopping online for holiday gifts, hackers have more opportunities to steal our data and hijack our machines. ​

"We believe the continued spikes in malware are due in large part to increased online activity by holiday shoppers, and increased efforts on the part of malware makers to take advantage of those shoppers. Simply put, the bad guys know more people will be online looking for deals and checking on orders, and they have stepped up their attacks," explains Ryan Gerding, a spokesman for Enigma Software Group, which makes anti-malware tools.

How to protect yourself

It's probably not the first thing on your to-do list this time of year, but protecting yourself from this increased threat really can't wait. Thankfully, you don't have to be an expert technologist to radically increase your chances of evading holiday hackers. The helpful techies over at Motherboard have put together an entirely usable and very thorough guide to keeping your digital life safe this and any other season. (Hat tip to Boing Boing for the pointer.)

While it's probably a good idea to click over and give the complete guide a quick read when you have the time, here's the first step Motherboard suggests everyone take to keep their gadgets secure:

Probably the most important and basic thing you can do to protect yourself is to update the software you use to its newest version. That means using an updated version of whatever operating system you're using, and updating all your apps and software. It also means updating the firmware on your router, connected devices, and any other gadgets you use that can connect to the internet.

Bear in mind that, on your computer, you don't necessarily have to use the latest iteration of an operating system. In some cases, even slightly older versions of operating systems get security updates. (Unfortunately, this is no longer the case with Windows XP--stop using it!) What's most important is that your OS is still receiving security updates, and that you're applying them.

So if you come away with one lesson from this guide is: update, update, update...

Well, that's simple enough. The rest of the guide is equally sensible and jargon-free. Check it out before it's too late and you find yourself spending your holiday break on the phone with your bank and changing all your passwords.

When is the last time you seriously thought about whether your devices were secure from hackers?

Published on: Nov 27, 2017