Passwords, keys, fingerprints – there are a lot of ways to access your laptop or desktop. Here are the best and safest.
Whether your computer is running Windows, macOS, or Chrome OS, you have options for how to connect. And your choice doesn’t just affect how convenient it is to get into your laptop or desktop; it also affects how easily someone else can access it.
These are the different connection options available and you need to know them, so make sure you choose wisely. The right one for you will depend on how your computer is set up and how careful you want to be.
You can find login options for Windows by opening Settings via the Window icon in the Start menu, then choosing Accounts and Sign-in options. By default, your computer will be protected by your Microsoft account password – make sure it’s long, complicated, and impossible to guess. You should also set up two-factor authentication in your account.
One of the alternative login options you’ll see is Windows Hello PIN. Microsoft will encourage you to use this instead of your password, as it is kept hidden on your device and only applies to a specific device. As with the Microsoft password, the PIN code should be long and something that is not obvious, such as a birthday.
For even better protection, you can switch to Windows Hello Face or Windows Hello Fingerprint to connect with your face or fingerprint – this type of biometric authentication is very difficult to break, although you need it to be supported by your hardware. Most Windows computers now support these features, although you may not be lucky enough to use an older computer.
The Security Key option is another very secure connection method. In addition to your password, you’ll need a specially crafted physical security key to access your computer – so even if someone guesses or breaks your password, they won’t be able to access it. Physical keys are not expensive, but you must accept the FIDO2 standard: Microsoft has complete details on how this works and how to obtain keys
Finally, there is the Picture Password option, which basically uses a pattern that you draw over an image of your choice as an authentication method. It’s a little more convenient for you, though it’s easier for someone else to access – it’s easier to guess, suddenly force a pattern, or just look over your shoulder in a coffee shop or office than to reproduce your fingerprint, for example.
If you’re using a Mac, open the Apple menu, then choose System Preferences and Users & Groups to see the accounts set up on your system and change your password if necessary. This is the default way to connect to macOS and uses a password separate from the password associated with your Apple ID, even if your Apple ID is also associated with your Mac.
You should also click Login Options and make sure Automatic login is turned off, which means that your password is required every time your computer turns on. It may be less convenient, but it is the only thing that prevents someone from restarting the computer to enter it. Back in the System Preferences panel, click your Apple ID, then Password & Security to change the password for your real Apple account and enable two-factor authentication – which you should definitely do.
If you’re using a MacBook with Touch Bar and Touch ID, you’ll see a Touch ID icon in the System Preferences panel. Select this option to use your fingerprint as a way to connect to a Mac, which is both more secure and convenient than using a password. The same fingerprint can be used to authenticate Apple Pay payments.
The other option you have for connecting to macOS is to use an Apple Watch as your authentication device. Your Mac is smart enough to know if you’re actually wearing the smartwatch and that you’re a short distance away, so it’s a very safe way to protect your computer (as well as be more convenient for you.).
To set this up on macOS, you need to open the Apple menu and System Preferences, then choose Security & Privacy and General. Check Use your Apple Watch to unlock apps and your Mac, and once you’ve confirmed this decision with your macOS password, you should automatically sign in whenever Apple Watch and Mac are nearby.
When you set up a Chromebook for the first time, your user account will be protected by the password associated with your Google Account. Once logged in, you can check your connection options by clicking the time indicator, Wi-Fi and battery (bottom right), then the wheel icon, then People. There should be a Security and sign-in option under your name.
Once you’ve entered your password, you’ll find an option that forces the Chrome OS to ask for a password every time the Chromebook wakes up, which you should turn on. You’ll also find an option to set up a PIN to access your Chromebook as well as your password – it’s not really more secure, but it’s more convenient for you.
You can also sign in to ChromeOS using your phone (Android). In the same settings panel, you need to click on Connected devices – from here you can set up a connection to any Android phone registered with your Google account and click on the Smart Lock option, which means your Chromebook is unlocked when your phone is nearby.
It’s up to you to decide if this is safer than entering your password every time, but it’s important to keep in mind that your phone will need to be unlocked in order for the login attempt to work. There’s no need for someone to take your phone and then use it to enter your Chromebook, as long as your phone is locked.
As always, it’s important to follow a good password rule, as it can still be used to sign in to your Chromebook, no matter what else you’ve set up as your sign-in method. From your Google Account web page, you can choose Security to change your password and ensure that two-factor authentication is enabled for new devices (which should be the case).