Spring always brings with it an air of renewal, causing us to feel a strong urge to clean a little more than usual and to purge all the clutter that’s been piling up unnoticed. We open our windows to let the breeze freshen our space, tackle the old junk taking up space in the garage, and clean out all the dust bunny hideouts.
Today, many of us arguably live just as much of our lives online as we do in our homes. But do we pay as much attention to the digital clutter?
This year, set aside some time to spring clean your connected life (especially if you’ve never cleaned it up at all)! Inspired by the National Cybersecurity Alliance and the BBB’s Spring Cleaning Checklist, we’ve compiled the following tasks that you can complete in order to renew your digital life. Each week has a different theme, dividing up the tasks to make them easier for you to complete.
WEEK 1: Keep Clean Machines
✔ Update all software and apps on any web-connected devices.
How many times have you X’ed out of the little dialog box asking you to update your apps? While we hope the answer is never, we know that’s unrealistic. If you’ve been letting it slip for a while, now is the time to update ALL the things! Companies release updates for software in order to patch exploits and bugs that have been discovered. If left unpatched, these could lead to criminal hackers taking advantage of the vulnerability and causing serious damage.
✔ Stop the app-sanity and clean up your mobile life.
Once in a while, it’s a good idea to take a stroll through the apps you’ve downloaded to your mobile devices. Delete apps that you no longer need or use; not only does this free up space and memory for more processing power, less exposure to third parties means less chance of a compromise! You might also want to review permissions for the apps that you choose to leave. Don’t be afraid to ask difficult questions or to pursue another, better app if you discover that an app is forcing you to expose sensitive information unnecessarily. (Here are 6 tips for protecting yourself further from mobile malware!)
✔ Update your anti-malware software’s database / registry & run a full system scan. (And if you haven’t already downloaded one, do so ASAP!)
If you didn’t think to update your anti-malware software when updating all your apps, it’s very important that you do so immediately! It might be annoying to go through the process of updating it every few days, but you must keep in mind that new and unique malware is created every single day. Two years ago in 2014, an average of 82,000 new malware threats were created each day, and last year that rose to nearly 1 million. You can bet that the number has only continued to increase. Thus, anti-malware software requires frequent updating in order to protect you as fully as possible against all known threats. If possible, find a way to set it to auto-update to keep you most secure.
WEEK 2: Make Sure You’re Secure
✔ Add two-factor authentication to ALL critical online accounts.
Enhancing the security of your online accounts using two-factor authentication is a simple way to strengthen your defenses against identity theft. Two-factor authentication means purposely adding an extra step to the login process (such as a text containing a code sent to your phone) in order to make it more difficult to gain unauthorized access to your account. Some institutions are already making this an automatic step of the process; to find out which ones, go here: Two Steps Ahead Campaign.
✔ Add a VPN to any device you frequently use in public or take with you on travel.
We at SAC often preach about the necessity of using a VPN when connecting to any unknown or public WiFi source, especially unsecured hot spots in high traffic areas. Criminal hackers can see everything you’re doing on your machine — bank credentials, office gossip, file transfers — if you’re browsing without using a VPN on someone else’s WiFi. Watch our Internet Safety PSA about “using protection” here!
✔ Secure your home WiFi network & router.
The days of plugging your computer up directly to the router to access the internet are over. While WiFi is far more convenient, it’s also far less secure if you haven’t taken extra steps to protect the connection. To do this properly, you should consider doing the following: reset the default password for your router, change your network’s name (preferably to something that doesn’t attract attention), encrypt your wireless signals, filter MAC addresses based on your own devices, and reduce your signal’s range. Lost? Just click here, we can give you more information for each step!
✔ Change all your passwords, and make sure any for accounts containing PII or sensitive info have unique, strong ones.
One of our favorite comparisons for password management is for you to treat your passwords like your underwear: change them often and don’t share them with anyone! Although one of the strongest practices a human firewall can have is to change passwords every few months (or more!), sometimes life happens and we let things slide. Now is the time to catch up and give everything a fresh password! While you’re at it, if you notice that any of your critical accounts (email, banking, social media) are sharing passwords, fix that immediately. And don’t be afraid to make difficult, complex passwords; use the help of a password manager!
✔ Check to ensure that all your devices are password, passcode or fingerprint protected.
Don’t complain about how adding this extra layer of protection to your device adds an extra few seconds to the time it takes for you to get to the home screen. If your device is ever stolen or compromised, it will be much harder for the thief to access sensitive data that could lead to identity theft (or worse) if you just add a simple “lock” to it.
WEEK 3: Digital File Purge & Protection
✔ Get rid of old emails, go on an “unsubscribe” spree & reorganize your email filing system. BONUS: Reach the elusive Inbox Zero!
Set aside a block of time to tackle the bear that has become your inbox, or spread it out over several evenings while binge-watching. As much as you might be ignoring it, your productivity will increase if your inbox is less cluttered. Go through your folders and delete any emails that you’ll never need to reference again, archiving those that you might. Reorganize your email filing system into something that will help you keep your inbox less cluttered day-to-day, considering what factors go into choosing to look over messages left to pile up.
If subscriptions are always taking over your inbox but you don’t necessarily want to unsubscribe, check out Unroll.Me, a service that combines any number of mailing list emails into a single email that you receive each day. It will also help you unsubscribe from mailing lists with a single click! You can also read through this exhaustive article from LifeHacker on how to finally reach Inbox Zero.
✔ Delete and archive old files & reorganize your filing system. BONUS: De-clutter your computer’s desktop, if you’re the type!
Similar to the email task above, this task might require some time to complete, but the efficiency and extra processing power gained will make it worthwhile. Take some time to browse through your folders, following file paths from end to end and taking notes (mental or otherwise) along the way. You might want to reorganize so that things you use most often are easier to find, and things rarely used are kept out of the way (or even on an external drive). If you have a habit of nesting folders within folders within folders, attempt to simplify paths to make files easier to find.
When you come across numerous drafts of the same document, outdated financial statements, or unused / unnecessary files, trash them. Don’t be afraid to delete similar, out-of-focus, blurry, unflattering, etc. photos either; keep only the best, trash the rest! Another tip is to do a file search for anything above a certain size (e.g., 10 MB, 500MB, 2GB), and delete, resize or move off-drive anything that seems oversized. When you’re done, permanently delete any files you moved to the recycle bin to take full advantage of all your new extra space!
✔ Make sure backups are functioning, well-protected & automatic.
We cannot stress enough how vitally important it is that you backup ALL your devices. Hard drive crashes or extreme malware infections do happen, often at the worst possible moment. If your computer crashed today, what would you lose and would you be able to recover it? Photos, college papers, files for work, finalized documents, financial records, contact lists… all gone, irreplaceable.
If you do backup, first of all, great job! Follow-up: do you take steps to protect sensitive files in your backups and are they automated? Setting an automatic backup makes the whole process more efficient, and more likely to have all your data backed up in an emergency situation. And while many preach about the value of encrypting your backups, you don’t truly need to encrypt everything. Just makes sure you keep sensitive files encrypted whether they’re hanging out on your device or in your backup drive.
WEEK 4: Clean Up Your Online Reputation
✔ Review the privacy & security settings for all outward-facing online accounts.
Taking responsibility for the privacy settings on your social media accounts is key to maintaining the most secure online life that you can (the most secure being complete abstinence). Even if you already set them to be completely private a year ago, it’s still worth it to go in and check to make sure that filters and settings are exactly what you expect them to be, especially since many social media companies change these options from time to time. Choose wisely what pieces of information you share with whom or make public; criminal hackers, identity thieves, social engineers, and stalkers all know how to make a complete profile of you from small pieces of info that you might not even realize you’re flaunting. If you need help decoding privacy settings for the major social networks, check out this helpful post from Binary Tattoo.
✔ Clean up your social media presence & update your online brand.
By taking an active role in your online presence, you can make sure that your reputation is closer to spotless than to marred. Take a trip down memory lane through your old photos & memories, and delete any along the way that no longer represent who you are. Update any outdated info, remove anything that you find too revealing, and don’t be afraid to delete old status updates or comments.
If you’re having a hard time, view your profile through the eyes of others who might affect what you would you post: your grandmother, a future interviewer for an important job, your children, someone who wants to ruin you, your partner’s family, a tabloid journalist looking for gossip to publish on you or someone you love, a stalker. Modern times might push us to live exposing all the details of our daily lives, but that doesn’t mean it’s the smartest thing to do; it’s the same old argument our mothers used to make about pointlessly jumping off a bridge.
✔ Review your friends & contact lists, including what different groups are permitted to view your posts.
It’s a good idea to comb through your contact lists every once in a while to weed out anyone that no longer belongs. To piggyback on the point just made above, befriending strangers or bare acquaintances then exposing those minute details of your daily life to them is not the safest choice. Commit to only allowing people you know and trust to see private details, even if that means creating separate accounts for your professional life and personal life.
Inspired by & compiled from the following sources:
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