Protecting your accounts and devices — an online self-defense workshop

Screen capture of Zoom session for SPI Lab
SPI Lab members take a moment to pose during one of their online workshops. (Image courtesy SPI Lab)

The Security Privacy Interaction Lab (SPI Lab) at U-M, led by Florian Schaub, assistant professor in the School of Information and College of Engineering, is a team of researchers studying privacy and security issues in today’s digital world.

As part of Privacy@Michigan — U-M’s Data Privacy Day celebration, Yixin Zou, a PhD student in the School of Information, presented the first of three SPI Lab workshops on online-self defense on Thursday, January 20. 

Zou presented best practices and actionable tips to improve anyone’s cybersecurity presence. This workshop covered three areas: passwords, antivirus software, and disposing of old devices.


Use a unique password for all services you log into, and it should be complicated and long enough that a criminal can’t guess it. Some tips:

  • Don’t reuse passwords with different accounts. 
  • Stump hacking algorithms by making passwords long, and do not use common or easily guessable words.

Acknowledging that it’s impossible to remember all of your passwords, Zou offered two suggestions:

  • Write your passwords in a notebook and keep it secure.
  • Use a password manager to create and store all your passwords in an encrypted format that can be auto-filled into login screens.

Antivirus Software

Use antivirus software to protect against malware, which is malicious software that can infect your devices through email attachments, USB drives, and visits to malicious or compromised websites. Five years ago, most security experts would recommend buying antivirus software from a third-party vendor. While that is still recommended, many personal devices have built-in antivirus software that meets most people’s needs.

Disposing of Old Tech

When you dispose of a device, remember that you may have a lot of personal information on it. Whether you are going to keep, donate, sell, or recycle them, you should remember to:

  • Use a hard drive or cloud storage to save backups.
  • Erase a device with a factory reset or by removing and destroying the hard drive and/or SIM card.

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