With Thanksgiving and the holidays looming, you might well find yourself called upon to provide some free tech support to your family. Maybe it's a tradition, or maybe it'll be the first time. After all, these are usually the occasions where 12 months' worth of tech problems and concerns get aired. At this point, you probably shouldn't travel if you can avoid it, so here are some tips you can offer from afar.
These tips represent simple and straightforward security advice that you can pass on to your loved ones, even if it has to be over Zoom. What's more, following these guidelines should keep your family members safe for the year ahead as well, with minimal involvement from you.
Keep Everything Up-to-Date
You might be surprised at just how many security threats get stopped simply by having up-to-date software on your laptop or phone. While they're not invulnerable to attacks, most modern-day operating systems, web browsers, and apps are very good at keeping malicious activity at bay.
These days it's actually pretty hard not to keep operating systems, programs, and other devices up to date. Most of them have auto-updates turned on by default, but it's worth double-checking with family members to make sure they're not putting off an update for whatever reason. (A lack of free storage space might be a problem on older devices, or one stalled or failed update may mean no updates since the failed one.)
Make sure that they're running the latest versions of their software on their devices, and that auto-updates are turned on, and the process should take care of itself in the future. If a relative is using something that's so old it's no longer getting updates, you could even treat them to a brand new model to keep them safe.
Show Them Your Work
Even the most tech-savvy of us will often resort to a web search to find the solution to a particular problem—but being able to pick out the right and relevant articles from a long list of search results, adverts, forum posts, and clickbait is a skill in itself.
People in your family can probably search for solutions to problems themselves—what they might be less confident in is interpreting what comes up. You can help by pointing out resources that are actually useful, from Microsoft Support to the official Apple forums.
You could email a list over to anyone who needs it, or even set up bookmarks in someone's browser if you're able to—they'll be able to turn to that email or those bookmarks rather than you the next time something goes wrong. Consider it empowering your family to help themselves when you can't be there to help them in person.
Manage Passwords Properly
We often discuss the benefits of getting a password manager, and if you can persuade your relatives to sign up for one—and maybe even help them through the initial setup process—then the software will look after them from that point on.
Not only will a password manager remember all your passwords across all of your devices, it'll also make sure you're not using duplicate passwords for multiple accounts. These services can even suggest super-strong, original passwords for you, and warn you when a password has been compromised so you can change it immediately.
Password managers such as Dashlane, LastPass, and Bitwarden have free plans you can take advantage of, though you may feel it's worth spending a few dollars on such an important service—you could even offer it to a family member as a gift.
Back Up That Data
Getting files and folders backed up to simple cloud services such as Dropbox, OneDrive, iCloud, and Google Drive is much easier than it used to be, so you should be able to make sure your relatives are sorted with one (or more) of these cloud storage platforms fairly quickly.
The advantage from a security standpoint is that key data can be recovered if a laptop or desktop computer gets hit by malware. Of course, it also means your family members have a safety net in place for all kinds of other problems and mishaps.
As with the password managers, you might want to consider gifting some cloud storage space to your nearest and dearest if they don't have their own. All of the cloud storage services we just mentioned have family plans that you can take advantage of.
Finally, cloud storage is great and all, but if your family member already has it, or if they want a more complete backup solution, consider a more comprehensive tool, like Backblaze.
Set Up Two-Factor Authentication
Two-factor authentication (2FA) adds an extra layer of protection to your digital accounts: If your password and username gets out in the wild somehow, 2FA will keep the doors to your accounts shut because an additional code is required for access.
This code is usually generated by an app on your phone and is only required when you're logging into new devices, or after a certain period of time. As far as your family goes, that means when you've set this up for them, it shouldn't be much of a worry for them in the future. Just make sure to grab any recovery codes they may need in advance, just in case something goes wrong.
You can at least make sure your relatives have 2FA enabled on their big accounts that hold most of their data—the accounts run by the likes of Microsoft, Google, and Apple. It doesn't take long to configure and makes everything substantially more secure.
Lock That Phone
Another way to quickly help out is to make sure your family's phones are properly locked and protected from unauthorized access (if they get stolen or lost). If biometric security features like fingerprint or facial recognition aren't enabled yet, have your family member turn them on.
You might also want to reduce the time that the phone stays unlocked for, which again reduces the risk of anyone else getting access— it's Display, Advanced, Screen timeout in Android settings, and Display & Brightness then Auto-Lock in iOS Settings.
It's a good idea to make sure the locations of these devices are trackable too, in case the device is stolen or misplaced: Go to Security and Find My Device from the Settings page on Android, or open up iOS Settings, tap the Apple ID account at the top, and then choose Find My.
Help From Far Away
Beyond staying home for the holidays, you probably can't (or don't want to) jump in the car or on a plane every time your family member calls because something on their computer isn't working properly. Save yourself some in-person visits and long, drawn-out phone calls in the future and set up some kind of remote computer access.
If both of you are using Windows, then the Quick Assist tool comes built-in, while on macOS there's a screen share feature in Messages. Otherwise, tools like TeamViewer and Chrome Remote Desktop are free to use and straightforward to configure, and powerful enough to make remote tech support easy.
These tools let you quickly see and interact with the same laptop or desktop screen that your relative sees, from wherever you are in the world. You can give them advice about dealing with a suspicious pop-up, running a virus scan, or even take control yourself and work your way through whatever problem they're having.