The only certainties in life are death, taxes, and having to provide tech support for your relatives over the holidays because you “know computers.” Save yourself some time, and follow our 12-step plan to clean and secure everyone’s gadgets.
Update Computer Operating Systems
We don’t necessarily recommend updating an operating system (OS) on the first day a new version is released. In general, though, it’s a good idea to keep your OS up to date. Both Windows and macOS bundle security updates with bug fixes and feature updates, so an up-to-date system is one of the easiest and most effective ways to keep a computer safe.
On both Windows computers and Macs, it’s easy to find out which version of the OS it’s running and upgrade if necessary. You can follow our instructions to update the firmware on both Windows or macOS.
This can take some time, so you’ll probably want to do this step first.
Activate Antivirus Software and Run a Scan
Antivirus software prevents viruses and other unpleasant things from infecting a machine. It also monitors everything that’s downloaded or installed, compares it to a list of programs that are known to be harmful, and prevents it from delivering anything nefarious to the system.
We recommend Windows Defender for Windows machines. It’s been built into the OS since Windows 8. It’s also free and easy to use—just turn it on, tell it to update its virus definitions automatically, and then scan the machine.
There are fewer viruses and malware that target Macs, but they’re increasing. Installing an antivirus shouldn’t cause any problems, though. Choose a reputable program, install it, update the virus definitions, and scan the Mac.
Turn on Anti-Malware Software and Run Another Scan
It’s impossible for antivirus software to be 100 percent effective against everything, so you should also install a good anti-malware program. We recommend Malwarebytes for both Windows and Macs.
Install it, update the malware definitions, and then scan the machine again.
See If Passwords Have Been Stolen
Because we spend so much of our lives online, and people tend to use very common passwords or the same one on many sites, it’s crucial that they know if their passwords have been stolen. Check HaveIBeenPwned (HIBP) to see if an email address or password for any online accounts have been compromised.
We’ve covered HIBP before, so if you’ve never used it, just follow the instructions.
Change All Passwords and Install a Password Manager
Regardless of whether HIBP returns any hits, having a unique password for every website is one of the best ways to improve safety on the internet.
Unfortunately, multiple passwords are often really hard to remember. That’s where a password manager comes in. It will generate and store passwords for every site your family member logs in to.
Enable Two-Factor Authentication Everywhere
The best way to protect online accounts is by enabling two-factor authentication. When Google conducted a study on security hygiene, it looked at how effective different methods of security were at preventing automated bots, and bulk phishing and targeted attacks.
The only method that was 100 percent effective against all three types of attack was two-factor authentication (2FA) using an app or hardware key.
This is why we recommend using 2FA via an app. However, 2FA with SMS (text messages) is still better than not using 2FA at all.
Don’t forget to copy the recovery codes, though, so if your family member loses or breaks his phone, he can still get in easily.
Uninstall Unnecessary Apps
Unused apps can be a security risk because people often forget to update them. They also take up hard drive space and potentially slow down a computer if they’re loaded into memory when the computer boots.
Removing any unnecessary apps makes a computer more secure, increases hard drive space, and might make it run a bit quicker.
Update All Remaining Apps
It’s important to keep apps updated because the latest versions are normally the most secure and reliable. They also have the latest features and run faster. Here’s how to upgrade apps on Windows and Macs.
Remove Unnecessary Browser Extensions
This might be obvious to you, but if you’re cleaning up someone else’s machine, it’s common to find a bunch of sketchy extensions doing who knows what.
Check out our guide on removing browser extensions from Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, and Opera, or this one for Edge.
Update the Operating System on a Mobile Device
Like computers, phones and tablets benefit from the latest updates to their operating systems as these contain bug fixes, security updates, and feature enhancements.
Uninstall Unnecessary Apps on Mobile Devices
Smartphones are the backbone of many people’s lives. They contain everything from email accounts and banking services, to medical data, and fingerprint or face unlock.
Because phones (and tablets) contain so much valuable and private information, it’s best to remove any unwanted apps. After all, as we mentioned previously, you can’t be sure they’re not invading your privacy.
Update All Remaining Apps on Mobile Devices
You’re almost finished—there’s just one more thing. Android, iOS, and iPadOS try to keep apps updated automatically, but that doesn’t always happen.
People sometimes disable automatic updating because they want to know what changes will be made to their device before they install the latest version.
Now, you can go back to overindulging and relaxing—until the next relative asks you for a quick favor, that is.