6 Tech Gifts for Adults That Are Secure by Design

December 5, 2019
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6 min read

In this era of hacking, data theft and cybercrime, even the greatest tech gifts for adults can turn your loved one into a Grinch if they get hacked. So this year, don’t just gift your loved ones any old electronic toy — give them the gift of security.

This security-focused holiday gift guide offers you, the knowledgeable security professional, some tips and ideas for holiday shopping that can grant security to your less technical family and friends. They get a great gift, and you get the peace of mind that comes with knowing they’re protected.

Here are six great tech gifts for adults looking to gift security this holiday season.

1. A Security and Privacy Smartphone

A smartphone is the ultimate device for being hacked and spied on. Everyone is concerned about security and privacy, yet we all voluntarily buy and carry a device packed with cameras, microphones, radios for exchanging data wirelessly and strong processors capable of executing malware on the device. Then, we download apps from who-knows-where that may have been created by unknown actors for potentially nefarious purposes. Many of these apps exist to track, surveil and transfer data from the smartphones they’re installed on secretly, and we compound this issue when we connect to unsecured public Wi-Fi networks.

Smartphones (and how we use them) are the ultimate hacking assets. One way to increase smartphone security and privacy for a loved one is to gift them a security and privacy phone — especially if they’re frequent travelers.

While the average phone running iOS is generally more secure than the average Android phone, the reality is that nearly all purpose-built security phones run Android because Android is more OEM-customizable.

Security-specific smartphones typically encrypt everything with strong encryption and offer hardware-assisted security containing specific hardware for storing cryptographic keys and other secure data. They communicate on cellular networks and Wi-Fi through an always-on virtual private network (VPN) and also offer good biometrics for authenticated use, boot and runtime security checks and extreme “privacy mode” access, which disables Bluetooth, the camera and the microphone. A security smartphone will also install security patches as soon as they become available.

Security smartphones do everything a regular smartphone does and also protect the phone and its user from hacking, surveillance and data theft.

2. A Video Doorbell With Cloud Storage

One of the greatest additions to the physical security measures of homes in recent years has been the video doorbell. These devices typically replace the doorbell installed near the front door of a house. They’re inexpensive and easy to install, and they can improve security in three ways.

First, they act as a deterrent. Anyone from the boldest burglar to the most pathetic porch pirate can see the camera from a distance, and by the time they see it, their face has already been captured. They can then decide if they want to commit a crime based on the knowledge that video evidence of them doing so has already been captured.

Second, they’re great at capturing crimes in progress, so not only can they send you a notification on your phone to call the police, they can also capture crimes on video for evidence in court later on.

And, third, they create uncertainty about whether you’re at home. Many burglars ring the doorbell to see if anyone’s home before breaking and entering. Fortunately, you can answer a video doorbell from your smartphone and interact with anyone who comes to your door. Would-be burglars can’t tell if you’re in the house or on the other side of the world.

Some video doorbells don’t automatically come with cloud storage for their video footage, so you should always give a cloud subscription as part of the gift. The reason for this is that the cloud magnifies the effectiveness of the doorbell. Even if crooks cover, break or steal the video doorbell itself, the video evidence will be instantly uploaded and placed beyond their reach.

Here’s another tip: Give a video doorbell to someone even if they already have one. Video doorbells are great for travel. Your loved ones could use them when they’re staying at Airbnb houses by mounting them with putty to install them temporarily. When they return to their rented space after being away, they can check the cloud-stored video to see if anyone entered the house while they were away before they walk in. And, if they have to leave a laptop or other gear in the hotel room, a video doorbell can be a visible and effective deterrent that also provides evidence in case anyone enters your room to tamper with or steal your devices. Note that industrial espionage attacks on business travelers often occur when laptops are left unattended in hotel rooms.

3. A Personal, Portable Phone Faraday Bag

Every form of wireless communication is theoretically (if not actually) hackable, and cell phones tend to have them all. Your average garden-variety smartphone is open to communication via Wi-Fi, cellular networks, Bluetooth, NFC and other avenues, and each of these is vulnerable to multiple attack methods.

Of course, you could selectively turn these off, but that takes a lot of poking at settings, and it can be easy to forget to do. That’s why a Faraday cage — or, more accurately, a Faraday bag — is a great gift that gives instant, total wireless security in high-risk environments such as airports, hotels, conferences and more. These bags are especially prevalent in hacker-centric security shows like Black Hat and DEF CON. A Faraday bag is made from conductive materials that block electromagnetic fields of all kinds. When a smartphone is in a Faraday bag, it can’t send or receive any wireless communications, including phone calls.

You can buy these in the form of purses, briefcases, backpacks or stand-alone bags, the latter of which are most practical for most people because they can be placed anywhere. They’re also great for keeping wireless car key fobs safe from so-called “relay attacks,” “replay attacks” or “rolljam attacks,” that enable crooks to use a key fob from inside your house to steal your car from the driveway.

4. Cloud Storage

Everyone should have enough cloud storage to keep a copy of all their data. Even if they have backups, keeping a redundant, encrypted copy of everything is a good idea, as cloud copies can save your loved ones from a variety of modern mishaps and attacks.

For example, if they’re attacked with ransomware, and a cybercriminal demands money in exchange for decrypting and restoring files (and there’s never a guarantee that they’ll actually do this), a full copy of the data can be restored much faster than cloud backups can. It’s always reassuring to have redundant options for storage — one cloud backup and another cloud copy.

Another scenario can arise at the border when we travel. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are getting increasingly active with their digital searches, which can involve downloading everything from your phone, tablet or laptop. That’s another copy of the data in the wild, and there’s no telling what might happen to it. However, the CBP will never touch cloud data, even if it’s accessible through the device they’re searching. It’s good practice to travel with reformatted devices devoid of data and to access them from the cloud when you’re abroad — over secure, encrypted channels, of course.

Yet another good reason for having plenty of cloud storage is the need for space to store photos and videos. Most people nowadays take gigabytes of pictures and videos and then automatically back them up to a photo service. These services often let you store unlimited photos, as long as they can be compressed. As a result, most people have access only to a single copy of their most precious photos, and those copies are compressed versions of the originals. Access to plentiful cloud storage means people can store a second, redundant copy in the original, uncompressed form.

5. A Keystroke-Encrypted Keyboard

It’s possible to hack a wireless keyboard from 100 meters away, and a PC keyboard can reveal everything — usernames, passwords, credit card details — anything typed online, in private emails and secure text messages can be captured via keylogging and relayed to cybercriminals.

That’s why a keyboard with strong encryption makes a great gift. Make sure the keyboard comes from a highly reputable vendor and can be updated with the latest security patches.

6. Encrypted Mobile Storage

Legendary movie director Francis Ford Coppola famously got robbed in Argentina in 2007. Burglars not only stole his laptop, but also his backup drive, which contained his only copies of family photographs, movie ideas and other documents. The lesson in Coppola’s story is often expressed as: “Always have cloud backups, not just local backups.” — and it’s a critical lesson.

But there’s more to learn from this case, as Coppola didn’t just lose his data; the burglar also gained it. In addition to backing up redundantly and remotely, Coppola also should have encrypted the local data. That way, when the burglar stole his drive, they wouldn’t have access to it.

Anyone with data to keep can benefit from a local storage drive that encrypts its contents.

What These Gifts Have in Common

Since you’re reading this article, you’re in the minority of people with a high degree of awareness around security, how it works and why it’s important. But if statistics are any indicator, your loved ones may be less inclined to take the actions necessary to provide for their own security. Changing behavior is hard, but buying secure devices is easy.

What these tech gifts for adults have in common is that they provide security without knowledge or behavioral changes. The security is built into the products, which can automatically provide the benefits of cloud backups, encryption or physical defenses against hackers and malware.

In other words, you can give the gift of security without lecturing loved ones on their behavior or imposing constraints on what they can and cannot do. Fortunately, by simply giving them the right gifts, you can enhance their personal security significantly. Secure devices like these not only make for a great holiday season, but also a happy new year.

Mike Elgan

I write a popular weekly column for Computerworld, contribute news analysis pieces for Fast Company, and also write special features, columns and think piece...
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