February 21, 2014

Don't Forget Your Technology When Spring Cleaning


There once was this idea that technology would make our lives easier and lead to a life of leisure. Boy, did we get that one wrong.

For most of us, work is now a 24/7 activity. The pace has increased, too, and between email, social networking, endless meetings and of course a voluminous workload thanks to the ability to now do more with less employees, many of us are in a constant state of motion. At the end of the day, we pull up our Netflix account and zone out because most of the time we’re so busy with our endless to-do list inside work and without.

This can often lead to a lack of time for maintenance tasks, the little things that keep our work and personal lives in order. Because these tasks rarely have hard deadlines, we push them forward and never actually get them done.

But pushing maintenance tasks forward endlessly is a crisis waiting to happen, which is why spring cleaning is so important. It is essential that sometimes we stop and handle the little things sometimes, and spring cleaning gives us that opportunity.

When it comes to technology, there are a few important spring cleaning tasks we’ll want to make sure we handle, especially when it comes to security practices. These include changing our passwords, minimizing the personal data in our wallets, protecting our smartphones, checking up on the security of our laptops, and streamlining our social networks.

The experts at Experian’s ProtectMyID shared a few tips with us recently.

One of the most important is the need to regularly change our passwords.

We live by our passwords now more than ever thanks to the rise of cloud computing and having our lives stored on servers in remote data centers. The only thing stopping our data from reaching the wrong hands are our passwords, and if we don’t change them at least quarterly we are setting ourselves up for disaster.

Most of us, if not prompted by our financial institutions, do almost everything wrong with our passwords. We use the same password for multiple accounts, we pick easy to remember passwords such as the names and birthdays of our family, and we never change them. Spring cleaning first and foremost needs to be a time to update our passwords, using a different one for each site, and making sure all are following the best practices of making them at least eight characters long and including both letters and numbers, as well as a special character or two (the underscore is a personal favorite for me).

We also need to streamline our wallets in case of theft. This means carrying the minimum of credit cards and ID cards we can get away with, and removing things like our social security card if that sneaks into our wallet after a visit to the doctor or some other government office.

Protecting our phone is as crucial as lightening our wallets, too. Even more than our passwords, our smartphones are the gateway to all our accounts these days.

So after cleaning out our wallets of too much sensitive information, a good practice is to review the security on our phones and tablets, making sure that we have these devices automatically lock after a few minutes of use. It also is good practice to enable the phone’s built-in security features such as the ability on most smartphones now to track lost phones and remotely wipe data if the phone is lost.

And it goes without saying that every phone should have a password lock on it in 2014. Yet, many of us are too busy to make that happen, so spring cleaning is a good moment to ensure that all our devices are properly secured with (unique!) passwords.

Our computers also serve as vectors of potential security breach. A good spring cleaning routine will check to make sure our antivirus software is updated, firewall settings are in place, and appropriate password locks also are set up.

One friend of mine who is a frequent traveler goes so far as to not only have password on his laptop’s login account, but also a bios-level password on the laptop’s hard drive that must be entered when the computer is turned on. By using a bios-level password, he ensures that a stolen laptop is the same thing as having a laptop without a hard drive, since nobody can access the hard drive at all without the password—even if the hard drive is removed.

Image via Shutterstock.

Spring cleaning is a good time to prune social networks, too. In our social media age, it is easy to have hundreds or even thousands of online friends, many of which are distant acquaintances or even strangers.

While it is tempting to keep a massive list of social media contacts, it also can be dangerous. It is far too easy for these people to gain access to sensitive information on these services; even Facebook’s founder once or twice revealed photos that he did not intend, and most of us are much more likely to make that mistake.

So during spring cleaning, it is wise to un-friend contacts who are not really friends or colleagues—and to review the information we currently are sharing our social networks. Often there are items on our profiles that we probably should remove, but in the hustle and bustle of our normal work days we neglect to notice them or think through their implications enough.

It is wise to periodically review the state of privacy on our various social networks, too. Changes to the social network privacy mechanisms should not lead to automatic exposure of data we previously thought was private—but it can happen. So it is good to review privacy settings periodically on our social networks just to make sure.

There of course are other digital tasks we should perform during our spring cleaning sessions, but these are some of the most important.

We live busy lives. But we still need to handle the little things from time to time before they become a problem.




Edited by Stefania Viscusi



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