My parents are very technologically inclined.

My mother started working with computers in the early 1970s, and my father, a recently retired senior vice president and chief systems architect for a Fortune 50 company, kept extremely sensitive data safe in the cloud. He’s a highly regarded expert and pioneer in his field.

And then there’s my mother-in-law. She does not know how to use a computer, and she mostly uses the smartphone we bought for her for Christmas to make actual phone calls. She is also a very trusting person, so when pop-ups on her phone tell her to “click here” to improve her phone’s performance, “scan for viruses,” or whatever — she clicks, not realizing it is most likely installing malicious software (malware) on her phone.

We didn’t know she was doing this until I recently noticed a $5/month Verizon cloud storage plan had been added to her line on my account months ago. She didn’t know she’d purchased it and explained how her phone is always telling her it needs more storage (not likely, given how little she uses it for anything other than making phone calls, and especially given the fact she had 500G of cloud storage that was untouched), so she clicks on these “ads” to “help.”

My dear husband had to spend an hour educating his mother on malware — spyware, ransomware, viruses, etc. — but it was too late. Her phone soon stopped working altogether, and we’re left hoping nobody got a hold of her sensitive personal information.


Preventive maintenance

Her smartphone’s demise (and potential personal data breach) could have been prevented if she had known to follow a few simple steps — preventive maintenance, if you will — to keep her information safe and smartphone running well.

We perform preventive maintenance on our boilers, our cars, and even our bodies, but what about our computer devices? These are devices contractors, plumbers, mechanical engineers, office staff and more use on a daily basis, so it’s vital to know how to protect your (and your customers’) sensitive data.

Yet so many businesses don’t.

I asked my father what business owners and individuals can do right now to protect their sensitive data. He has these five tips:

1. Don’t skip the updates. “Make sure you are up to date on software maintenance across all of your devices, including computers, tablets, and smartphones. No complex software is bug-free, and patches for bugs are released all the time, regardless what operating system you’re using,” he says. “While some of these patches may introduce new bugs, they still fix many more issues than they create.”

2. Make sure your devices are running operating systems that are still under maintenance. “In other words, don’t run archaic software — for example, Windows XP — that is no longer supported,” he says.

3. Frequently reboot your devices. “Power your devices down regularly or even nightly, if you can,” he says. “It is also wise to power-cycle your modem and router nightly.” You can do this with a simple $6 digital outlet timer. (This is more for performance but also for security.)

4. Make sure you have effective anti-virus and anti-malware software installed. “I like Webroot,” dad says.

5. Train your people to be suspicious of any links or attachments that don’t come from a known source. Beware of phishing attacks. Hover over the hypertext to see where it leads — if the hypertext reads “reset Google password” but the link directs to something like “,” don’t trust it.

“In fact, if someone emails you and tells you to reset your password, just don’t click on the link,” dad says. “Go to the website yourself in a new tab and then reset your password from there. Do not click the link in the email.”

These quick and simple steps can help significantly decrease the likelihood of a data breach while ensuring your devices are running as smoothly as possible.