When you unwrap a shiny new gadget, you want to start using it as quickly as possible. But first—in order to keep your data safe, ensure your hardware lives a long life, and reduce the chance of mishaps later on—you’ll want to follow our guide to setting up your device.
These seven steps will back up your vital files, protect your security, and make sure you keep only the apps you really want. Here’s our advice on what to do as soon as you’ve unboxed your new piece of tech.
1. Apply any available updates
When you unwrap a new toy, you want to start playing with it as soon as possible, not twiddle your thumbs waiting for updates to install. But there are a couple reasons why you should swallow your anticipation and take this vital step.
First of all, the latest updates for your iOS, Android, macOS, or Windows device will include the most up-to-date security patches. Until you’ve worked your way through all the waiting updates, you’ll leave your new hardware vulnerable to outside threats.
Second, the latest updates also improve compatibility with other devices. If your new laptop won’t send files to your old printer, or you just can’t get your new phone to talk to your speaker system, a software update might solve the problem. Even better, you should go ahead and install that update right away, before problems crop up.
On iOS, you’ll find potential updates in Settings > General > Software Update. On Android, look for Settings > System > Advanced > System update. For macOS, open the Apple menu, then hit About This Mac > Software Update. And on Windows, tap the cog icon on the Start menu to open the Settings pane, and then pick Update & Security. For other gadgets, the instructions that came with them should explain where to find updates.
2. Protect against physical access
When anyone other than you gets their hands on your tech, they can expose your data, damage your hardware, or compromise your files. To prevent this, you need to protect your devices against two types of threat: physical access and remote access.
The person physically accessing your stuff could be anyone from a careless niece stumbling across your phone to a determined thief swiping your laptop. In either case, it’s essential that you set your gadget to lock automatically, and protect it with a password, PIN code, fingerprint, face scan, or another proof of identity.
On iOS, you’ll see these options under Settings > Face ID & Passcode (or Touch ID & Passcode on older devices). On Android devices, go to Settings > Security & location > Screen lock to review the available options. With macOS, open the Apple menu and choose System Preferences > Security & Privacy > General. Finally, on Windows, click the cog icon on the Start menu to reach Settings, and then pick Accounts > Sign-in options.
On these same menu screens, once you set a PIN code or trusted fingerprint (or whatever the other options are), you can decide how quickly the gadget should lock itself when it’s not in use. To be on the safe side, set this time period to be as short as possible.
3. Protect against remote access
After protecting your device from anyone who might have it in their physical possession, turn your attention to threats that arrive over the internet. This could be hackers actively trying to force a connection to your device, or dodgy apps that try to install malware, or browser extensions that want to force advertising on you.
Thankfully, iOS and Android are both very secure operating systems. As long as you only install apps through the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store, you shouldn’t need to set up any additional protection. Still, it’s worth double-checking the reviews and descriptions before you install any app.
As for computers, for the most part, macOS and Windows also come with safe-enough protections. For example, macOS places very tight restrictions on the abilities of third-party applications, while Windows comes with its own Windows Defender anti-malware tool, which should be enabled by default. That said, computers tend to face more threats than phones. So carefully choose the email attachments you click and the browser extensions you install.
Despite these built-in protections, extra-cautious consumers might want to install a third-party antivirus program. Examples include products from Norton, which cost $30 to $55 per year; Avira, which has a broader price range of $0 to $100 per year; and Malwarebytes Premium, which costs $40 to $60 per year and boasts a recommendation from product-review site Wirecutter. Those are just a few of the existing options—for a deeper dive, check out the independent tests from AV-Comparatives and AV-Test.
Robert Malinowski is a former journalist who has interviewed murderers on death row, flown over L.A. with the LAPD and patrolled with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police near the Arctic , He joined our team since one year!