SPRING CLEAN YOUR DIGITAL CLUTTER AND PROTECT YOURSELF
Seriously. We are de-cluttering our closets, kitchens, and other physical spaces inside our home – but what about our digital clutter that has been accumulating since 1998? Yes, stuff isn’t falling out of our computers when we open it but this is as important (if not more) as all those pesky overfilled drawers. Organization online will keep away the hackers – think of it like a physical for your computer on a yearly basis. Trust me. I was hacked a few years back and since then I make it a priority to do a virtual purge. It takes less time (and less frustration) than going to credit agencies and trying to explain that no, you didn’t buy four vacuums at Kohl’s within three hours.
Where should you start?
Look for apps you don’t use anymore and shut them down. Are your photos backing up onto four different services for some reason? Clean that up. Do you still have an AOL account with a messaging app you used years ago? Why is that calorie counting app still on your phone from 2014? Cancel and delete. That type of exposure is an unnecessary risk.
“The physical presence of data is so small that sometimes we don’t think about it as being clutter,” says Michael Kaiser, the executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance. “But we accumulate massive amounts of it and some of it can be harmful if it gets lost or stolen.”
Address your physical devices. Destroy old CDs, thumb drives, and external hard drives you don’t need anymore. (like those fun floppy disks in your basement.) Consider old PCs, gaming consoles, and smart home gadgets, and back up anything you want from those devices before wiping them.
Next, deal with your current devices. Sort through your desktop and clean out your documents folder. Eliminating PDFs of credit cards or medical forms will go a long way toward keeping you safer. And it’s a good opportunity to make a plan for sensitive documents that you do want to hold on to. You could back them up to a cloud service or a password-protected external hard drive. AND then take them off the devices you use every day that could be lost or stolen.
“When we talk about security we often talk about protecting our own things,” Kaiser says. “But in reality we actually do sit on large amounts of information about other people, and that’s something to consider with decluttering and storing data more securely.”
Think of all the information you have saved. Banking or credit card account information? Tax returns? Passwords? Medical or other personal data? Personal photos? Sensitive corporate information? … Depending on what kind of information an attacker can find, he or she may be able to use it maliciously.”
And as with thumb drives, you may have random files in all sorts of services that offer some free storage like Evernote, Google Drive, and Dropbox. Sort through what’s there and eliminate what you don’t need.
Before you delete ANY software, clean out and close your account with the company. That way they are still actively collecting data on you. Closing an account doesn’t necessarily mean that a company deletes all your data, but it keeps the account from staying active and potentially continuing to collect data (like counting your steps wherever you are).
Where should you end?
After your virtual spring cleaning is done, start organizing online. Start making folders. Have consistency in your filing. Know where you’re information is at on your desktop, on your phone, and in the cloud so that when you’re on vacation and you need to get to those immunization forms for camp or that-need-right-now document for a client – It’s all at your fingertips. And isn’t that the point of technology today? Oh, and if you need help send me a message – unless your mailbox is full, that is.