What is Secure Boot? A guide to your PC’s security check during startup

business professional working on laptop desktop PC in office
Secure Boot is a safety feature built into all modern PC laptops and desktops.

  • Secure Boot is a feature of your PC’s UEFI that only allows approved operating systems to boot up.
  • It’s a security tool that prevents malware from taking over your PC at boot time.
  • While it’s not recommended to disable Secure Boot, you can customize the certificates it uses to authenticate which operating systems are approved on your PC.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

Secure Boot is a feature found in the startup software for your computer that’s designed to ensure your computer starts safely and securely by preventing unauthorized software like malware from taking control of your PC at boot-up.

If you’re using Windows 10 and a modern PC with UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface, the low-level software that enables your computer to boot), then you’re automatically afforded protection from illicit software attempting to take control of your computer when it starts up.

How Secure Boot works

Before Secure Boot, the computer’s BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) would hand off control of the PC to any bootloader that was located in the right location on the hard drive. There was no way for the BIOS to validate or authenticate the software, so anything could boot the PC – Windows, other operating systems like Linux, and even malware.

That’s no longer the case. Secure Boot is a feature in UEFI, which has replaced the BIOS on the vast majority of PCs in use today. While the BIOS was commonly used in computers from the first PC until the 2000s, today virtually all PCs use UEFI. You may have seen the UEFI interface if you had to access the startup menu by pressing a keyboard shortcut (usually F1 or F2) when the computer is first turned on.

Secure Boot establishes what programmers refer to as a “trust relationship” between the UEFI and the operating system that it launches at boot time. To do this, the launch software is signed with pairs of public/private security keys. The operating system’s private key is “whitelisted” by UEFI. If UEFI has approved the key, the software (like Windows 10) can launch.

IT professionals working together on desktop PC
Secure Boot helps your PC launch safely with the proper operating system, safe from malware attacks.

Windows 10 ships with a certificate that’s stored in UEFI; this serves as the key that allows it to boot. Likewise, other reputable operating systems (like Linux) can also acquire a key and register with UEFI, allowing them to boot securely as well.

Conversely, if malware tries to install a bootloader on your PC to take over at startup, it will not have a signed key, and UEFI will not allow it to launch.

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How to disable Secure Boot on your PC when you need to install components that aren’t compatible with the security feature

man working on desktop
You can disable Secure Boot through your PC’s UEFI.

  • To disable Secure Boot, you need to restart your PC and open the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI).
  • Secure Boot is a feature in your PC’s UEFI that only allows authorized operating systems to boot.
  • You can re-enable Secure Boot from UEFI, but you may need to restore Windows to factory conditions.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

Secure Boot is an important safety and security feature found on most modern PCs – it prevents unauthorized software like malware from taking over your PC when it turns on. It’s a feature in your computer’s UEFI designed to authenticate security keys on compatible software like Windows 10.

Sometimes, though, you might need to disable Secure Boot. This might be the case if you need to install an operating system or other bootup utilities that are not compatible with Secure Boot. Only Windows 8 and Windows 10 have Secure Boot certificates, for example – if you needed to install Windows 7 on a Secure Boot-enabled PC, you would need to disable Secure Boot.

Please exercise caution before doing this, though. Secure Boot is an important element in your computer’s security, and disabling it can leave you vulnerable to malware that can take over your PC and leave Windows inaccessible.

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What is a digital footprint? How to protect yourself online, and keep your data from being used against you

professional working from home on laptop smartphone
It’s important to know what kind of traces, or digital footprint, your online activities leave behind.

  • Your digital footprint refers to all the personal data and information available about you online.
  • Your active digital footprint includes your emails, social media posts, and other messages with your name attached.
  • Your passive digital footprint is information you unintentionally leave behind, like your IP address.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

As the internet is deeply entwined in almost every aspect of modern life, it’s difficult to avoid having some kind of presence online.

The degree to which you leave traces of your online activities is referred to as your digital footprint – it’s akin to the evidence you might leave behind after going camping, such as remnants of a campfire, your dinner scraps, and the path you carved in the woods while hiking.

In the case of your digital footprint, the evidence you leave behind is data. This footprint tends to fall into two major categories, depending on whether you’re leaving an “active” digital footprint or a “passive” one.

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Is Dropbox secure? Here’s how Dropbox has improved its security measures, and what you can do to protect yourself

Dropbox app
Dropbox is a cloud storage and file hosting system that has previously received backlash over security concerns.

  • Dropbox is secure thanks in part to its 256-bit AES encryption, but the service has been hacked in the past.
  • Because Dropbox is relatively secure, the largest vulnerabilities are often the end users and their security hygiene. 
  • To be safe, you should enable two-factor authentication, be wary of public folder sharing, and consider using file-level encryption.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

Dropbox is one of the most popular cloud storage solutions in the world, supporting more than 14 million paying customers as of December 2019. Like most online services that have a long history dating back to the early days of the web, Dropbox’s past includes hacks and data breaches. 

The most infamous incident included the theft of more than 68 million account credentials in 2012 (hackers tried to sell this data in 2016), and the hack led to the company resetting passwords for millions of accounts in 2016. 

How Dropbox has increased its security level

In the years since, Dropbox has shored up its security substantially. Today the service’s 256-bit AES encryption and support for additional security tools like two-factor authentication is competitive.

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Dropbox’s security is bolstered by 256-bit AES encryption.

The service authenticates all user connections to the server, whether it’s via a web browser or mobile app, and Dropbox uses Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)/Transport Layer Security (TLS) to protect data as it moves between Dropbox’s users and the servers.

Moreover, Dropbox routinely tests its own hardware, software and processes for security vulnerabilities, and makes sure to alert users if Dropbox detects an attempted login from a new device or location. There have been no known large-scale hacks on Dropbox since 2012.  

How Dropbox may be vulnerable

“Their current encryption standards make the odds of a hack less likely, but no cloud-based solution is completely safe from new and emerging threats,” said Kristen Bolig, founder of SecurityNerd. 

Aside from the risk of an attack on Dropbox itself, one of the most dangerous vulnerabilities is on the user end of the Dropbox experience. Users – especially corporate customers – routinely face phishing attacks and social engineering attacks designed to trick people into giving up credentials and access to accounts. 

And not all security concerns originate with hackers and criminals. Dropbox’s user base crosses international boundaries, and Dropbox may opt to share user data with government agencies and law enforcement from time to time – the service has formal guidelines that dictate its behavior based on official requests. 

How to protect yourself as a Dropbox user

All that means your risk of a data breach with Dropbox is low, but not zero, and there are steps you can take to ensure your own security. 

Chris Hauk, consumer privacy advocate with Pixel Privacy, recommended enabling Dropbox’s two-factor authentication. “This ensures that if a third-party attempts to log into your Dropbox account, you will be notified via email or text message.” 

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Two-factor authentication is an easy step you can take to ensure Dropbox remains secure.

Simple human error is also a risk – Dropbox allows users to store files in easily exposed public folders, for example, so it’s important to be careful about where files are placed. 

And for the ultimate in security, both from accidental public folder disclosures as well as hacks, security experts like Security.org’s Chief Editor Gabe Turner suggest using file-level encryption on important files stored on Dropbox. You can encrypt and password-protect documents created in Microsoft Office, for example, or with a third-party app. 

This eliminates the risk of Dropbox itself accessing your files with the company’s own encryption key or handing your information to government authorities. 

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Is PayPal secure? How the service protects your transactions, credit card data, and more

online shopping laptop with credit card
PayPal is about as secure as it gets in terms of online transactions.

  • PayPal is a highly secure financial service, backed with some of the best end-to-end encryption available.
  • You should also make sure to enable two-factor authentication, and delete any unused bank accounts or email addresses.
  • Even with all this security, remember that no online service is immune to hacking or theft.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

PayPal got its start in 1998 and is used by hundreds of millions of people. It’s considered one of the safest ways to conduct financial transactions online, potentially even more secure than using a credit card. 

How PayPal secures your information

“PayPal is an online payments system. Period. PayPal is laser-focused on payments,” said Monica Eaton-Cardone, COO at Chargebacks911, a platform that manages chargeback fraud.

In other words, PayPal focuses all their attention on making sure that every transaction you make through the service is as smooth and secure as possible.

The service automatically encrypts all transactions using secure sockets layer (SSL) protocol technology with 128-bit encryption. PayPal also performs server checks to ensure customers are using an approved browser (supporting SSL 3.0 or higher) for web-based transactions. 

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PayPal is a popular financial service with high levels of end-to-end encryption.

Moreover, PayPal has added security features that go beyond technology like SSL and encryption. Tom Kelly, president and CEO of digital privacy protection platform IDX, said that PayPal stores all their data “in a single online vault system, which is much safer” than how credit card data can be stored in multiple locations.

PayPal offers a strong purchase protection program for buyers, and follows the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), a set of standards also followed by credit card companies to secure user data and protect against theft and fraud.

It’s important to note that PayPal acts as a secure intermediary, never exposing credit card numbers or bank account information during a transaction, which can happen if you use your credit card on other sites. 

How to protect yourself from any PayPal vulnerabilities

Monica Eaton-Cardone warned that no service is completely secure, though. “Even though you’re well-protected from the other party, you’re not immune to hacking, theft or fraud. If you make careless errors, that can lead to your PayPal account being compromised. And PayPal itself isn’t infallible: They’ve frozen accounts by accident.” 

In short, most vulnerabilities come from users accidentally exposing their username and password to hackers. Traditional scams like phishing attacks remain a risk that people need to be wary of. 

“Using two-factor authentication along with a strong password is critical,” Tom Kelly advised. 

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Every PayPal user should enable two-factor authentication to prevent hackers from taking advantage of stolen login credentials.

And because you can link PayPal to other accounts, devices, and email addresses, unused and forgotten links are a risk vector for your PayPal account.

Rob Shavell, co-founder and CEO of the online privacy company Abine, said, “Delete unused accounts and accounts associated with old email addresses. People often forget that they may have linked their inactive PayPal account to a still-active funding source. It’s best to close out the account to ensure no one else accesses it.”

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Is Google Drive secure? How Google uses encryption to protect your files and documents, and the risks that remain

Google Drive app on smartphone
Overall, Google Drive is fairly secure, but unlike some end-to-end encrypted apps, it has vulnerabilities.

  • Google Drive is generally very secure, as Google encrypts your files while they’re being transferred and stored.
  • However, Google can undo the encryption with encryption keys, meaning that your files can theoretically be accessed by hackers or government offices.
  • You can make Google Drive more secure by using two-factor authentication and being careful when giving other apps permission to use your Drive.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

Google Drive is quickly becoming the most popular storage service around. And with more than a billion users and over 2 trillion files saved, it needs to be secure.

But Google users have been victim to hacks before – in 2014, approximately 5 million Gmail usernames and passwords were stolen and leaked online.

So if you use Google Drive, you might be wondering how secure your files really are.

How Google Drive secures your files and data

Regardless of previous hacks, the risk of using Google Drive is low. Google uses the strong 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) encryption on all its Google Drive servers (with the exception of a small number of storage devices that date prior to 2015 – those use AES128 encryption instead).

Likewise, when the data is in transit between users and Google Drive servers, Google uses the Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol to protect the data and prevent interception. 

In short: your data is largely secure.

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Google Drive uses enhanced encryption tools for both file transport and storage.

How Google Drive may be vulnerable

Some security experts don’t love that Google keeps encryption keys for all the files on Google Drive. Encryption keys are tools that let Google (or whoever has the keys) decrypt files, bypassing all their security.

“Because they are in control of these encryption keys, it can lead to vulnerabilities for its users,” said Kristen Bolig, founder at SecurityNerd. “They have the power to decrypt files which can make them easier for hackers.” 

This is in contrast to apps like Signal, where not even the company that runs the app can access your data.

Moreover, Google is subject to governments and law enforcement. “If your files are subpoenaed, depending on what Google decides, it might not take a security breach to forfeit your privacy,” said Monica Eaton-Cardone, chief operating officer of Chargebacks911.

And as is often the case with cloud services, the most significant risks aren’t related to the encrypted infrastructure, but with the user, and Google Drive has a number of user-related vulnerabilities. 

Google Drive lacks cohesive organizational permissions, for example. Nick Santora, CEO of Curricula, said, “The way Dropbox uses folders allows us to segment data by department and only give employees in that department access to those folders. Google makes this extremely difficult to do. Everything you do is a one-off. The permissions system is ad hoc, which leads to mistakes.”

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Google has no coherent system for file permissions, so every file permission is applied in a one-off, highly error-prone process.

How to protect yourself as a Google Drive user

The biggest risk to your Google Drive data is often you – along with the computers or devices you’ve connected to Google Drive. Remember that in general, any files on Google Drive get synchronized to your computer, so those files are vulnerable. “You can use encryption to further hide and protect your files,” Bolig suggested. 

In addition, you can take advantage of two-factor authentication to prevent hackers from accessing your files from another device, even if they take your username and password. And of course, always make sure you have a strong password.

Security.org editor Gabe Turner said it’s important to “remove any apps or browser extensions that have access to Google Drive unnecessarily.” Every app with permission to access Google Drive is another vector for hackers and a security vulnerability. 

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What are the green and orange dots on an iPhone? How to tell when apps are using your mic or camera

apple smart phone iphone 11 pro
Your iPhone will let you know when an app is using your microphone or camera.

If you’re an iPhone user, you may have noticed that an orange dot and a green dot now occasionally appear in the top corner of the screen. 

These dots are called indicator lights, and they alert users to when an app uses their camera or microphone. This new feature is part of Apple’s wider push to protect its users’ privacy. 

The orange light dot on iPhone means an app is using your microphone

When an orange dot appears in the top-right corner of your screen – right above your cellular bars – this means that an app is using your iPhone’s microphone.

For example, if you’re recording a reminder using the Voice Memo app, the orange dot will appear. The orange dot also appears when making phone calls or using the Siri function. 

The orange dot appears when an app is using your microphone, like when you’re making a phone call.

The green light dot on iPhone means an app is using your camera or your camera and microphone simultaneously

When the green dot appears in the top-right corner of your screen – also right above your cellular bars – it’s an indication that an app is using your iPhone’s camera, or both its camera and microphone.

For example, if you open Instagram and use the Stories feature to make a video with sound, the green light will appear to indicate that the app is using your iPhone’s camera and microphone. It’ll also appear when you place a FaceTime call.

The green dot appears when your camera is being used, like when you’re FaceTiming.

How to know which app is using your iPhone’s camera and/or microphone

Apple makes it simple to find out what app is using your iPhone’s microphone or camera.

When a green or orange dot appears, simply swipe down from the screen’s top-right corner to access the Control Center. At the top, the name of the app will appear, along with whether it used your phone’s camera or microphone.

For example, if you used Instagram, it should read “Instagram, recently” with an icon of either a camera or a microphone.

Your iPhone’s Control Center will tell you which apps were using your mic and/or camera.

Why the indicator lights matter

With the iOS 14 update, Apple introduced a number of new tools to help users protect their privacy, and force apps to be more transparent with how they use your phone.

The indicator lights are part of that, alerting users if third-party apps use their microphone or camera without consent. If you find that an app is accessing your microphone or camera without prompting, you should delete and report it.

Related coverage from Tech Reference:

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How to destroy a hard drive after removing it from your computer, so that its contents can never be recovered

computer hard drive internal
If you want to be sure your hard drive’s data is never recoverable, you can physically destroy it.

  • You can destroy a hard drive by wiping its contents and disassembling its parts for ultimate security.
  • If you’re donating, selling, or recycling a computer, you’ll want to make absolutely sure you’re not giving away the personal and private information on your hard drive.
  • Here’s how to disassemble and destroy your hard drive with just a few common tools. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

When you’re selling, donating, or recycling a computer, it’s critical that you ensure you’re not accidentally giving someone else access to your personal and private data stored on the computer. One way to do that is to thoroughly wipe (not simply erase) your old hard drive – for details on how to do that, see our article on fully wiping your computer’s hard drive

You can go further, though. For the ultimate personal security, you can remove the hard drive from your computer before you give it away and destroy the drive. That’s not as hard as it sounds, and ensures your old data is completely inaccessible to anyone ever again. 

The tools you’ll need to remove and destroy a hard drive

You don’t need much to disassemble and ruin a hard drive:

  • A Torx screwdriver to open the case
  • A flathead screwdriver to pry open the case
How to destroy a hard drive 1
The only unusual tool you need is a Torx screwdriver (not everyone has one in their toolkit).

How to find and remove the hard drive from your computer

Start by removing the hard drive from your PC. If you have a desktop or tower PC, unplug it and remove the cover or side panel (some cases are toolless and you only need to loosen some restraints, while others might require a screwdriver to remove screws). 

Look for the hard drive, which will be inserted in a drive bay or screwed to the side of the chassis. In most cases, you can simply disconnect the power and data cables and slide the drive out of the computer, but it might be screwed in place, in which case you’ll need to use a Philips head screwdriver to get it out of the PC.

If you have a laptop, you might need to refer to your user guide or contact the laptop’s customer support for information on how to remove the hard drive – the access panel might be on the bottom of the case or you might need to remove the keyboard to reach the hard drive.  

How to destroy a hard drive the fast way

If you’re in a hurry, you can damage it in a way that only a dedicated hacker will be able to recover any data.

1. Flip the hard drive over so you can see the main circuit board. 

How to destroy a hard drive 2
The fast way to render a hard drive unusable is to remove the exterior circuit board.

2. Use a Torx driver to unscrew the circuit board using the four Torx screws.

3. Remove the board, break it in half, and discard it. 

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Unscrew and remove the board.

4. Now you can recycle the hard drive knowing that someone can’t simply connect the drive to another PC to read its data, so it’s safe from casual users. 

How to destroy a hard drive the thorough way

If you are going to take the time to get your Torx driver and remove the circuit board, you might as well be thorough, since it only takes another five minutes to completely destroy the drive. 

1. Remove the Torx screws around the outside edge of the top plate on the hard drive case.

2. There will usually be one additional “hidden” Torx screw under the paper label. Feel around with your finger for a depression and then use a flathead screwdriver to tear the label away. Then use the Torx driver to remove the final screw. 

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Most hard drives have an additional Torx screw under the paper label.

3. Pull the top plate off. You’ll probably need to pry it off with the flathead screwdriver. If it’s extremely hard to remove, make sure there isn’t an additional screw holding it together. 

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Use a flathead screwdriver to pry the top plate off.

4. Now you can see the hard drive platters – there might be several of them stacked atop one another, each with its own read/write head which looks sort of like a phonograph’s tone arm.  

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Once you remove the cover, you can see the tone arms and platters, which are also held in place with more Torx screws.

5. Continue to disassemble the internal components by removing the tone arm and the platters themselves. There will probably be about three Torx screws on the spindle holding the platters in place.

6. At this point, the very act of exposing the platters to air and handling them with unprotected fingers has almost certainly destroyed the data on the drive. To be thorough, use a flathead screwdriver to scratch the surface of each platter. Now anyone would be hard-pressed to recover anything of value from this drive.

How to destroy a hard drive 7
Remove the platters and scratch them to make data recovery impossible.

Related coverage from Tech Reference:

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Head of White House security office has his right foot amputated due to severe COVID-19 and is facing ‘staggering medical bills,’ new report says

trump mask white house rally coronavirus
President Donald Trump takes off his face mask as he comes out on a White House balcony to speak to supporters gathered on the South Lawn in Washington, October 10, 2020.

  • The head of the White House security office, Crede Bailey, had a part of his lower right leg and the big toe on his left foot amputated during an ongoing battle with COVID-19, Bloomberg reported Monday. 
  • Bailey has been hospitalized with a severe case of coronavirus for three months, but is reportedly recovering from the illness. 
  • Friends of Bailey’s have raised over $35,000 through a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for his rehabilitation and “staggering” healthcare costs.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Crede Bailey, who heads the White House security office, lost part of lower right leg, including his foot, and a toe on his left foot during a monthslong battle with COVID-19, Bloomberg reported Monday. 

Bailey, whose office handles White House credentials and works with the Secret Service, contracted the coronavirus in September and has been hospitalized for three months, but is reportedly recovering from the illness. 

Friends of Bailey’s have raised more than $35,000 through a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for his rehabilitation and healthcare.

“Crede beat COVID-19 but it came at a significant cost: his big toe on his left foot as well as his right foot and lower leg had to be amputated,” Dawn McCrobie, a friend who organized the fundraiser, wrote last week, Bloomberg reported.

A White House spokesperson declined to comment about Bailey’s condition to Business Insider and Bloomberg reported that Bailey’s family requested that the White House not publicly acknowledge his illness. 

Last month, McCrobie wrote that Bailey’s “family has staggering medical bills from a hospital stay of 2+ months and still counting in the ICU and a long road ahead in rehab before he can go home.” She added that Bailey will need to pay for a slew of physical alterations in his home and a car that he can operate to accommodate his disability. 

Dozens of top administration officials and people tied to the White House have contracted COVID-19 and President Donald Trump has consistently downplayed the threat the virus poses. The president, who himself contracted the virus and was hospitalized for several days, has told Americans not to “be afraid of COVID,” mocked those who wear face masks, and condemned aggressive state measures taken to slow the spread of the virus. 

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