Now is the time of year when millions of Americans take the time to focus on decluttering.
Going through messy junk drawers, organizing filing cabinets and cleaning out closets and basements are staples of spring cleaning. But many people forget that they also should do a “digital spring cleaning” to help protect valuable personal information and data.
As the director of Marquette’s Cyber Security Awareness and Cyber Defense, I can attest it is critical to prevent your data from falling into the wrong hands. And, spring is the perfect time to take action.
Unfortunately, there’s no one-click solution to controlling personal data. It calls for ongoing education, persistent engagement and consistent management.
Most people make sure to lock their house and car every time they leave it because it’s better than being robbed. Your personal data is valuable, just like those material possessions.
I recommend the following digital management tips offered by the National Cyber Security Alliance and Better Business Bureau for people to follow.
Keep a clean machine. Make sure all software on internet-connected devices is up-to-date. This reduces infection from malware.
Strengthen your login. Fortify online accounts and enable the strongest authentication tools available, such as security keys, biometrics or a unique one-time code through an app on your mobile device.
Delete/update apps. Delete unused apps and keep others current, including the operating system. Deleting unused apps allows for more storage space and longer battery life. Actively manage location services, Bluetooth, microphone and camera, and make sure apps use them appropriately.
Purge unneeded files. Perform a thorough review of your online files. Go through these digital records, PCs, phones and any device with storage just as you would with paper files. Start by cleaning up your email, unsubscribing to email you no longer want to receive.
Back up files. Copy important data to a secure cloud site or another computer or drive where it can be safely stored. Password-protect backup drives.
Review website settings. Make sure the privacy and security settings on websites you use are set to your comfort level for sharing.
Know what devices to digitally “shred.” Computer and mobile phones capture and store sensitive personal data, but external hard drives and USBs, tape drives, networking equipment, embedded flash memory, copies, printers and fax machines also contain valuable information.
Clear out stockpiles. Wipe and/or destroy unneeded hard drives as soon as possible. Various wiping tools are available. Use embedded flash memory or networking or office equipment to perform a full factory reset.
Remember that failed drives still contain data. Wiping often fails on failed drives. Instead, shredding/destruction is the practical disposal approach for failed drives. To be shredded, a hard drive must be chipped into small pieces.
Empty trash and recycle bins on all devices, and be certain to wipe and overwrite. Deleting and emptying the trash doesn’t completely get rid of a file. People must permanently delete old files. Use a program that deletes data, wipes it from your device and then overwrites it by putting random data in place of your information that cannot be retrieved.