digital spring cleaning

A (Digital) Spring Cleaning (Data Breach & Identity Theft Protection)

Spring is a great time to clean your home, but it’s also important to clean and organize your digital life. Data breaches and identity theft are a growing threat.

Here are a few things you can do to secure your data and protect yourself from hackers.

Scan Devices Regularly

Malware and anti-virus software are only worthwhile if you use them to their full extent. Regular scans of all devices including your desktop, laptop, cellphone, and tablet minimize risk. Experts recommend scans at least monthly.

Update Software

Software companies publish updates frequently to protect against known issues. These include eliminating vulnerabilities, stabilizing systems, and improving performance. Check for updates to your browsers, operating systems, applications, and mobile devices, and implement the updates as soon as possible.

Eliminate Unused Apps, Programs & Files

Most people have many apps on their computer and cellphone. Deleting unused applications and programs frees up data, speeds performance, and reduces risk of data breach or theft.

You may also have many dormant files on your devices you should eliminate too. These include email drafts, your “trash” or “recycle bin,” outdated financial or account statements, and those things you might want to look at ”someday.” Retain the essentials, and purge the remainder.

Shred all old paper files and disposeof your old electronics properly. Simply deleting data does not fully remove it from the hard drive and someone with the right know-how may be able to recover your sensitive information.

Actively Manage App Access

In our busy world we all too often click “accept” before we actually understand what will happen. If an app or program wants to access your computer’s data, ensure it is appropriate and you’re comfortable with the level of access you grant. This is especially important for devices such as your camera, microphone, and Bluetooth.

Ask for Authentication

Many people don’t bother with two-step authentication on websites or apps, because it seems bothersome. However, social media websites such as Facebook, Instagram, and email providers are often a haven for hackers to access personal information, photographs, and your contacts.

Fortunately, most offer two-step authentication to prevent easy access. It’s an added layer of protection when someone tries to log into your account. It sends a code to your cellphone to verify you are actually you.

Review Security Settings & Contact Lists

While visiting your accounts, review your security settings and contacts. Most websites offer robust security options which only allow people to see your information if you allow it.

Those with a huge online presence may want to separate acquaintances from friends and restrict public access unless you grant your permission.

Strengthen Passwords

Anyone who uses the internet knows that password security is an issue. You can become lazy, because you need to remember so many. You might choose the same password for many applications or even worse you might use passwords which include personal information such as your name, address, or birthdate.

Strong passwords include upper and lower case letters, number, and symbols. Protect all your devices and use distinct passwords for activities such as social media, banking, and email. Even if a hacker accesses one area, they’re less likely to access the others.

Backup Data

Do you keep all your precious photos on your phone? Is your laptop vital to your livelihood or education? Do you do your own bookkeeping or own a website? If you’re not backing up your data, you could lose vital information that you may never see again.

Sort through essential files and store them in the cloud or on a portable external hard drive. Today, you can buy more storage space than you’ll probably ever need for less than $100.

Set a backup schedule you can live with. If you’re a data hog you might want to backup daily, but most people find weekly or monthly suffices.

Review Insurance Coverage

If a criminal accesses your data, infects one or all your devices, steals your identity, or demands a ransom it can be a very costly.

Standard insurance policies do not include cyber liability so many insurance companies now offer supplemental coverage. Policies may include protection against extortion, data restoration, credit monitoring, crisis management, and more. It’s worthwhile to review your existing coverage and discuss what your agent or broker can do for you to eliminate any gaps.