8 tech gifts for the security expert in your life
When you think someone may have hacked your social media or you hear your email provider was breached, who do you turn to for advice? We all have someone who keeps their finger on the pulse of safety, someone who knows if you need to worry and what to do if there is a serious problem. Maybe it’s your neighbor, maybe it’s your niece, but they know a lot more than you about online security. Buying a gift that plays into their interests is tough when you don’t really understand those interests.
That’s what we’re here for. Browse through our selection of gift options for the peace of mind in your life, and feel secure knowing you’ve made a good choice.
Recommended by our editors
Total network dominance
Every techie loves a gadget, and your security engineer will love this network security gadget. A shiny new Firewalla Purple will give your personal security man a variety of features to play with. They may already have chosen a favorite router for the household – that’s okay, Firewalla works with existing routers in several ways. It does the job of a router just as well, except for the lack of a full-powered Wi-Fi hotspot. Hi, you can arrange with a mutual friend to give them a powerful standalone hotspot.
From the associated mobile app, you can view and manage each device on the network and receive notifications when a new device connects. If your neighbor starts mooching their Wi-Fi, you can cut them off, and bam! You can even fine-tune controls, such as turning off gaming on your child’s devices during homework. Firewalla tracks performance statistics for your devices and your entire network. You can set it to block dangerous websites, suppress ads, act as a content filter for parental controls and more.
Your techie friend will get a kick out of Firewalla’s advanced capabilities. It can act as a VPN client, running traffic for some or all of your devices through a protected VPN server. More impressively, it can act as a VPN server, allowing you to return to your home network wherever you are. When it blocks traffic from a dangerous location, it can display a map of where the attack came from. It’s an amazing tech toy.
Firewalla purple review
Authentication in your pocket
These days, just about every secure website you visit wants you to enable multi-factor authentication (MFA), and that’s a good thing. Without MFA, a breach that exposes your password gives hackers full access to your account. With MFA at work, logging in also requires an authentication code or device, so illegal access attempts hit a wall.
It’s likely that your security-centric friend has already told you that text message-based MFA isn’t very secure. It’s better to use an authenticator app that generates a time-sensitive code on demand. But authentication using a physical security key is the most secure. When the key is in your pocket, you are the only one who can log in.
Yubico’s YubiKey was the first popular product in this realm, and the company is constantly expanding its reach. The earliest YubiKeys only connected to a standard USB port, meaning they were of no use with mobile devices. The latest YubiKey combines a physical USB connection with mobile-friendly NFC (Near Field Communication) technology. It’s a bit more expensive than most such keys, but it’s fine for a gift, right?
Yubico YubiKey 5C NFC Review
Secure Linux-based luxury
Windows laptops are everywhere, although they are often preloaded with bloatware, and Windows is a favorite target for those who code malware attacks. Macs are better, thanks to Apple baking in security at the lowest levels. But security experts all seem to be landing on Linux. If you’re looking for a truly grand gift, a new Linux laptop is just the thing.
However, not all Linux computers are created equal. Purism’s Librem 14 stands out from the pack in several ways. First, it runs PureOS, a security-focused Linux distro created by Purism that powers laptops and mobile phones. The fact that it’s open source means that experts can comb through it and flag any bugs. It’s also (according to Purism) “designed piece-by-piece, line-by-line, to respect your rights to privacy, security and freedom.”
Security leaks are unlikely to occur if your device is not connected. Librem 14 offers a physical switch to easily disable wireless and Bluetooth when not in use. Another switch lets you thwart snoops by turning off the webcam and microphone. The company offers security-enhancing hardware and services such as the Librem Key USB device to hold your encryption keys and an anti-interdiction service to verify that no one has tampered with your device in transit. Just make sure the friend you’re rewarding is a Linux head and they don’t already own a sleek, security-centric Librem 14.
Smile! Your identity has been stolen
Just because a person lives and breathes security doesn’t mean they can’t be victimized by identity theft. Exposure of personal data may be completely beyond their control. There are quite a few services that both monitor your online identity and offer help if identity thieves get hold of your data. These services can be expensive, so your buddy may have weighed the odds and decided to do without that help.
You can express your gratitude on several levels. The basic Norton 360 With LifeLock Select tier costs $149.99 annually, the Advantage tier costs $249.99, and the top-shelf Ultimate Plus tier costs $349.99 a year. Each jump in the tier gets both more Norton security and more LifeLock identity features. Consider whether you plan to make it an ongoing gift; a gift that becomes a large annual expense for the recipient may not be the best.
Chances are, of course, that anyone who is security conscious already has a security suite protecting all their devices. If Norton wasn’t their choice, they probably won’t switch. No problem—you can purchase LifeLock protection separately. The basic LifeLock Select service runs $124.99 per year, while Advantage and Ultimate Plus cost $239.99 and $339.99, respectively. Yes, the latter two are only $10 less than the subscription that includes Norton 360 cross-platform security protection, but what can you do?
Norton 360 With LifeLock Select Review
The Tinkerer’s Joy
Some security enthusiasts like to buy pre-configured home security systems, video doorbells and the like. Others feel much better using something they’ve made themselves, without the possibility of a built-in backdoor or security hole. Raspberry Pi is the go-to for electronics and programming tinkerers of all kinds. It’s a full-fledged Linux computer barely bigger than a deck of cards. The best thing is that a tinker can never have too many – there is always the next project.
The range of Raspberry Pi projects is almost limitless, and enthusiasts share them freely online and in videos. By connecting the right components, you can give the device just about any type of sensor and display. Build your smart doorbell, facial recognition lock or network-level ad blocker. Even inventing something that has never been seen before. It’s an ideal gift for a coding geek.
Raspberry Pi 4 review
Pen testing can be fun
Penetration testing, or pen testing for short, is a lucrative modern security career. Companies hire pen testers to break into their networks, finding the weak points before black hat hackers or industrial spies can get inside. Pen testers I’ve met all enjoy their work immensely. Breaking into networks without getting arrested is just plain fun! The tiny, portable Flipper Zero gadget packs in tons of pen-testing tools and related components and helps users avoid accidentally breaking the law. Your safety-minded friend will love it.
The dolphin-themed device looks like a game controller, with a five-position directional pad for input. A USB port lets you load it with more complex projects. It can pick up and play back radio signals that control things like garage door openers, analyze building entry swipe cards, read the infrared signals from remote controls, read your pet’s microchip, connect to other devices for analysis, and more.
Flipper is an open source project, so your technician can verify that it does not perform illegal actions such as blocking control systems or using brute force attacks on security. And if you come within range of another Flipper, the devices can interact and share information they’ve collected.
Hack in the Box
Does your security-conscious mate ever go to the dark side of security? Maybe hack into networks, not for personal gain, but just to show they have the skills? Then a Wi-Fi Pineapple can be the perfect gift. Yes, it can absolutely be used by pen testers for legitimate Wi-Fi auditing. But it’s also ideally designed to act as a rogue access point, capturing all traffic from nearby devices.
Here’s the deal. Each Wi-Fi hotspot broadcasts an SSID (service set identifier) that appears in the list of available connections on mobile devices. When you select one, the mobile remembers it and reconnects if that SSID comes up again. In fact, the smartphone periodically sends a shoutout to every SSID it knows. “Coffee kitchen, are you there?” Wi-Fi Pineapple simply responds to everyone such requests confirmed, thereby capturing the requesting device’s Wi-Fi traffic.
It’s true that most web traffic is at least encrypted using HTTPS these days, but the owner of the pineapple can still glean quite a bit of information by diving into the compromised connections. Give this item to the right friend and they can (dare I say it?) rule the world! Or at least get a top-of-the-world feeling.
Want to play a game?
Do rich financiers come home and play Monopoly with their families? Maybe not, but it’s game to them if they wishes to play. Similarly, technical experts who spend their days in incident response can come home and play Backdoors & Breaches, the Incident Response Card Game.
The game’s multi-colored cards have names like Insider Threat, Web Server Compromise, and Credential Stuffing. An Incident Master (usually the most experienced security veteran) draws attack cards and weaves a story scenario around them, much like the Dungeon Master in D&D. Defenders play cards based on security procedures, with a 20-sided die determining the outcome. The defenders win if they can reveal all four attack cards in 10 moves.
In truth, B&B is unlikely to ever overtake D&D in popularity. Colorful or not, the cards are more of a learning tool than entertainment. But the game is unusual, and it’s great for a limited-price or Secret Santa situation.
Good deeds deserve a reward
The next time your personal security sensei saves your bacon, consider offering more than a “thank you” with some of the gifts above. And hey, if your buddy’s security obsession turns into paranoia, we’ve got you covered there, too. Check out our list of gifts that protect the privacy of your paranoid friends.