The Safest Ways to Log In to Your Computer

Whether your computer runs Windows, macOS, or Chrome OS, you have options for how you log in. And your choice doesn't only affect how convenient it is for you to get into your laptop or desktop; it also affects how easily someone else can gain access.

These are the different login options that are available and that you need to be aware of, so make sure you choose wisely. The right one for you will depend on how your computer is set up and just how cautious you'd like to be.

Windows

Your Windows Hello PIN is securely saved locally on your computer. Screenshot: David Nield via Microsoft
You can find the login options for Windows by opening up Settings via the cog icon on 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 on your account, which you can do from here by clicking Security then More security options.

One of the alternative login options you'll see is Windows Hello PIN. Microsoft will encourage you to use this instead of your password, because it's kept hidden on your device and only applies to one specific device (read more from Microsoft on this here). As with your Microsoft password, your PIN should be lengthy and something that isn't obvious, such as your birthday.

For even better protection, you can switch to Windows Hello Face or Windows Hello Fingerprint to log in with your face or fingerprint—this sort of biometric authentication is very difficult to crack, though you do need it to be supported by your hardware. Most Windows computers now support these features, though you might be out of luck if you're using an older computer.
The Security Key option is another very secure login method. As well as your password, you'll need a physical, specially configured security key to gain access to your computer—so even if someone guesses or cracks your password, they won't be able to gain access. The physical keys aren't expensive but must support the FIDO2 standard: Microsoft has full details of how this works and how to obtain keys here.

Lastly, there's the Picture Password option, which basically uses a pattern that you draw over a picture of your choice as an authentication method. It's a bit more convenient for you, though it's also easier for someone else to hack into—it's easier to guess, brute-force a pattern, or simply peek over your shoulder in a coffee shop or an office than it is to replicate your fingerprint, for example.

macOS

Touch ID is a secure login method for macOS, if you have a MacBook that supports it. Screenshot: David Nield via Apple