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Stay cyber safe with some digital spring cleaning

The National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and Better Business Bureau (BBB) are encouraging consumers to get their online lives in good order by conducting a thorough cleanse of their cyber clutter and make “digital spring cleaning” an annual ritual to help protect valuable personal data. A NCSA survey found that preventing identity theft is a top safety concern for Americans, but there are several easy steps that everyone should do that will go a long way in tidying up digital disorder.

“Chances are that over the years you’ve accumulated lots of digital clutter that can impact your cybersecurity posture. It’s critical to remember that just as you shred sensitive paper documents before discarding, you should properly destroy important electronic data,” said Michael Kaiser, NCSA’s executive director. “By following a few easy-to-use digital spring cleaning tips, you can be significantly safer and more secure online. In addition, you will have a renewed peace of mind that you are helping to protect yourself, your family, and the community at large. NCSA and BBB want everyone to enjoy the internet’s extraordinary benefits with increased confidence.”

“Just as we urge people to safely shred old paper records, BBB is also urging consumers and businesses to make sure that electronic files are properly disposed of when no longer needed,” said Bill Fanelli, chief information officer with the Council of Better Business Bureaus. “Old hard drives, data sticks, cell phones, tablets—anything that contains sensitive data should securely destroyed. Digital spring cleaning also means deleting old files, updating passwords, and taking other steps to make sure your private information stays private.” Many BBBs are hosting Secure Your ID Day shredding events in April.

9 ways to refresh your online life

Refreshing your online life is a relatively simple process. NCSA has identified our top, trouble-free tips that everyone should follow this spring.

  1. Keep a clean machine: Ensure all software on internet-connected devices—including PCs, smartphones and tablets—is up to date to reduce risk of infection from malware.
  1. Lock down your login: Your usernames and passwords are not enough to protect key accounts like email, banking, and social media. Begin your spring cleaning by fortifying your online accounts and enabling the strongest authentication tools available, such as biometrics, security keys or a unique one-time code through an app on your mobile device.
  1. Declutter your mobile life: Most of us have apps we no longer use and some that need updating. Delete unused apps and keep others current, including the operating system on your mobile device. An added benefit of deleting unused apps is more storage space and longer battery life. Actively manage your location services, Bluetooth, microphone, and camera—making sure apps use them appropriately.
  1. Do a digital file purge: Perform a good, thorough review of your online files. Tend to your digital records, PCs, phones, and any device with storage just as you do for paper files. Get started by doing the following:
    1. Clean up your email: Save only those emails you really need and unsubscribe to email you no longer need/want to receive.
    2. Back it up: Copy important data to a secure cloud site or another computer or drive where it can be safely stored. Password-protect backup drives. Make sure to back up your files before getting rid of a device, too.
  1. Own your online presence: Review the privacy and security settings on websites you use to be sure that they remain set to your comfort level for sharing. It’s OK to limit how and with whom you share information.
  1. Know what devices to digitally “shred”: Computers and mobile phones aren’t the only devices that capture and store sensitive, personal data. External hard drives and USBs, tape drives, embedded flash memory, wearables, networking equipment, and office tools like copiers, printers, and fax machines all contain valuable, personal information.
  1. Clear out stockpiles: If you have a stash of old hard drives or other devices—even if they’re in a locked storage area—information still exists and could be stolen. Don’t wait: wipe and/or destroy unneeded hard drives as soon as possible.
  1. Empty your trash or recycle bin on all devices and be certain to wipe and overwrite: Simply deleting and emptying the trash isn’t enough to completely get rid of a file. You must permanently delete old files. Use a program that deletes the data, “wipes” it from your device and then overwrites it by putting random data in place of your information—that then cannot be retrieved.

    Various overwriting and wiping tools are available for electronic devices. For devices like tape drives, remove any identifying information that may be written on labels before disposal, and use embedded flash memory or networking or office equipment to perform a full factory reset and verify that no potentially sensitive information still exists on the device.

  1. Decide what to do with the device: Once the device is clean, you can sell it, trade it in, give it away, recycle it, or have it destroyed. Note the following:
    1. Failed drives still contain data: On failed drives, wiping often fails, too; shredding/destruction is the practical disposal approach for failed drives. Avoid returning these drives to the manufacturer; you can purchase support that allows you to keep it—and then destroy it.
    2. To be “shredded,” a hard drive must be chipped into small pieces: Using a hammer to hit a drive only slows down a determined cybercriminal; instead, use a trusted shredding company to dispose of your old hard drives. Device shredding can often be the most time- and cost-effective option for disposing of a large number of drives.

Events and Resources

Want to learn more about digital spring cleaning?

  • U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)The Protecting Your Digital Home Tip Card: Many of the items in our homes—our thermostats, coffee machines and music speakers—are now connected to the internet and store sensitive, personal information. As you go through and clean your house this spring, take note in each room which devices or appliances are connected to the internet. In this tip card, DHS provides five simple steps you can take today to secure your digital home and devices to protect you and your family from online threats.

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