Cybersecurity Tips Newsletter
April 10, 2024

Gigabytes and Garages: Spring Cleaning Tips for the 21st Century

Gigabytes and Garages: Spring Cleaning Tips for the 21st Century

It’s finally spring, and it’s time for spring cleaning! Many of us are decluttering not only our physical rooms and closets but also our digital spaces. Just as a clean home is important to maintain a healthy living environment, it’s equally crucial to spruce up our online presence and computer files, as well as update our internet-connected devices to safeguard against cyberthreats.

Are old electronic devices cluttering your storage space? Now is a great time to properly dispose of them safely, without harming the environment or compromising your personally identifiable information (PII).

Our digital footprint grows larger every day. Your PII is likely spread across many accounts and even linked to old phones and computers, leaving it vulnerable to unauthorized access. From personal photos and documents to sensitive financial information, an online presence is a treasure trove of data that needs protection from would-be pirates.

As the weather gets warmer, and we open up windows and shake off the winter blues, take some time to clean up your digital profile, as well as your garage. Dust off those monitors, clear out the closets, update your personal devices and leave your physical and digital spaces spotless with these easy steps.

Physical Cleaning Tips:

  • Know what devices you have. Take inventory of your personal devices, both old and new. Include phones, wearable technology, networking equipment, desktop computers, tablets, copiers, printers, and even fax machines. Old and broken electronics are often forgotten, but data stored on them can still be compromised. If you know what you have, you can better plan to store or dispose of electronics safely.
  • Handle Old Devices and Hard Drives Safely. Before you donate or recycle old devices, ensure your PII can’t be accessed by unknown persons. After backing up your files, perform a factory reset on old computers and mobile devices, where applicable. Remove any memory cards or hard drives. To fully ensure your data is inaccessible, have old hard drives properly destroyed by a trusted vendor.
  • Donate or recycle old devices. Investigate e-waste recycling programs or facilities in your location. Check with local officials, municipality websites, and local message boards for any recycling events where you can bring your devices. Consider looking into non-profit organizations that refurbish devices to donate to schools or other communities in need.

Digital Cleaning Tips:

  • Back up your data. Regularly back up important files and documents to an external hard drive or cloud storage service. This ensures that your data remains accessible even in the event of a data breach, hardware failure, or loss/theft.
  • Scan for malware. Use reputable antivirus software to scan your devices for malware and other malicious programs. Schedule regular scans to detect and remove any potential threats lurking on your system.
  • Declutter email accounts. Clean out your email inbox by unsubscribing from newsletters that you no longer read and promotional emails from stores you don’t shop at frequently. Delete old emails containing sensitive information and empty the trash folder to free up storage space. This can be a time-consuming process, but it feels very rewarding once completed.
  • Update passwords. Make sure the passwords for all your online accounts are unique, complex, and robust. Choose a passphrase that you can remember and that bad actors can’t guess.
  • Enable MFA. One of the easiest ways to safeguard your accounts is by enabling multifactor authentication (MFA). MFA utilizes two types of credentials when logging into an account, typically something you know (password/security question) and something you have (text message to your device, code sent to an authentication app, etc.). Follow this guide to learn how to enable MFA on your devices.
  • Review online accounts: Review and adjust privacy settings on social media and other online accounts. Limit the amount of personal information you share publicly to reduce the risk of identity theft or online harassment. Additionally, review the information saved on your various accounts and delete information that is not crucial, such as payment methods or documents you may have stored on the platform’s cloud. Consider deleting your profile altogether on applications and platforms you no longer use.
  • Secure all IoT devices. Perform software updates on all your personal devices, including computers, smartphones, and tablets. Administer updates on all connected devices in your home, known as the Internet of Things or IoT. The IoT includes smart thermostats, TVs, Wi-Fi routers, and any other device with an internet connection. These updates contain security patches that help protect against known vulnerabilities. Delete any apps or services from these devices that are no longer in use and consider disabling internet connection on devices that don’t require them, like a washer or dryer.
  • Enable alerts for financial accounts.  Financial accounts can alert you any time a transaction occurs. While this may seem like another notification to add to a growing list, it’s a helpful tool to stop fraudulent activity. The quicker you notice a transaction you didn’t make, the quicker you can work with your financial institution to take appropriate steps, such as locking/replacing a card or freezing your credit.

By following these simple tips and maintaining good cybersecurity hygiene, we can minimize the risk of falling victim to cyberthreats and enjoy a safer online experience. A little effort now can go a long way toward protecting your digital assets and personal information.

Additional Resources:

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Video: Spring Cleaning for Digital and Physical Spaces