With winter almost gone, now is the perfect time to start planning your annual spring clean. When we think about our yearly sort out, most of us think about decluttering our chaotic linen cupboards or the wardrobes that we can’t close. But if you want to minimise the opportunities for a hacker to get their hands on your private online information then a clean-up of your digital house (aka your online life) is absolutely essential.
Not Glamourous but Necessary
I totally accept that cleaning up your online life isn’t exciting but let me assure you it is a must if you want to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft.
Think about how much digital clutter we have accumulated over the years? Many of us have multiple social media, messaging and email accounts. And don’t forget about all the online newsletters and ‘accounts’ we have signed up for with stores and online sites? Then there are the apps and programs we no longer use.
Well, all of this can be a liability. Holding onto accounts and files you don’t need exposes you to all sorts of risks. Your devices could be stolen or hacked or, a data breach could mean that your private details are exposed quite possibly on the Dark Web. In short, the less information that there is about you online, the better off you are.
Digital clutter can be distracting, exhausting to manage and most importantly, detrimental to your online safety. A thorough digital spring clean will help to protect your important, online personal information from cybercriminals.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is a serious crime that can have devastating consequences for its victims. It occurs when a person’s personal information is stolen to be used primarily for financial gain. A detailed set of personal details is often all a hacker needs to access bank accounts, apply for loans or credit cards and basically destroy your credit rating and reputation.
How To Do a Digital Spring Clean
The good news is that digital spring cleaning doesn’t require nearly as much elbow grease as scrubbing down the microwave! Here are my top tips to add to your spring-cleaning list this year:
Weed Out Your Old Devices
Gather together every laptop, desktop computer, tablet and smartphone that lives in your house. Now, you need to be strong – work out which devices are past their use-by date and which need to be spring cleaned.
If it is finally time to part ways with your first iPad or the old family desktop, make sure any important documents or holiday photos are backed up in a few places (on another computer, an external hard drive AND in cloud storage program such as Dropbox and or iCloud) so you can erase all remaining data and recycle the device with peace of mind. Careful not to get ‘deleting’ confused with ‘erasing,’ which means permanently clearing data from a device. Deleted files can often linger in a device’s recycling folder.
Ensure Your Machines Are Clean!
It is not uncommon for viruses or malware to find their way onto your devices through outdated software so ensure all your internet-connected devices have the latest software updates including operating systems and browsers. Ideally, you should ensure that you are running the latest version of apps too. Most software packages do auto-update but please take the time to ensure this is happening on all your devices.
Review and Consolidate Files, Applications and Services
Our devices play such a huge part in our day to day lives so it is inevitable that they become very cluttered. Your kids’ old school assignments, outdated apps and programs, online subscriptions and unused accounts are likely lingering on your devices.
The big problem with old accounts is that they get hacked! And they can often lead hackers to your current accounts so it’s a no-brainer to ensure the number of accounts you are using is kept to a minimum.
Once you have decided which apps and accounts you are keeping, take some time to review the latest privacy agreements and settings so you understand what data they are collecting and when they are collecting it. You might also discover that some of your apps are using far more of your data than you realised! Might be time to opt-out!
Update Passwords and Enable Two-Factor Authentication
As the average consumer manages a whopping 11 online accounts – social media, shopping, banking, entertainment, the list goes on – updating our passwords is an important ‘cyber hygiene’ practice that is often neglected. Why not use your digital spring cleaning as an excuse to update and strengthen your credentials?
Creating long and unique passwords using a variety of upper and lowercase numbers, letters and symbols is an essential way of protecting yourself and your digital assets online. And if that all feels too complicated, why not consider a password management solution? Password managers help you create, manage and organise your passwords. Some security software solutions include a password manager such as McAfee Total Protection.
Finally, wherever possible, you should enable two-factor authentication for your accounts to add an extra layer of defense against cyber criminals. Two-factor authentication is where a user is verified by opt-out password or one-off code through a separate personal device like a smart phone.
Still not convinced? If you use social media, shop online, subscribe to specialist newsletters then your existence is scattered across the internet. By failing to clean up your ‘digital junk’ you are effectively giving a set of front door keys to hackers and risking having your identity stolen. Not a great scenario at all. So, make yourself a cuppa and get to work!
Til Next Time
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