BBB Offers Digital Spring Cleaning Tips to Protect Your Personal Data and Identity All Year Round

(Lake Havasu City, AZ – April 11, 2017) The National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and Better Business Bureau (BBB) are encouraging consumers to get their online lives in order by conducting a thorough cleanse of their cyber clutter and making “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, and there are several easy steps everyone can take 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 be securely destroyed. Digital spring cleaning also means deleting old files, updating passwords and taking other steps to make sure your private information stays private.”   

BBB and the NCSA urge consumers to follow this four-week outline and clean up their online life with an easy-to-follow timeline and plan (click here for a downloadable PDF of the checklist):

Week 1: Keep Machines Clean

As a very basic first step, make sure all web-connected devices ‒ including personal computers (PCs), mobile phones, smartphones and tablets ‒ are free from malware and infections.

·         Keep all critical software current: Having all software current is one of the best security measures to take. This includes security software, web browsers, document readers, operating systems and any other software regularly used.

·         Clean up your mobile life: Most of us have apps we no longer use as well as ones 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 location services, Bluetooth, microphone and camera – making sure apps use them appropriately.

Week 2: Make Sure You’re Secure

Building on Week 1, users can enhance the security of their online accounts – a fast and simple way to be safer online. There are quick and easy things you can do that have long-term safety and security benefits.

·         Get two steps ahead: Turn on two-step authentication ‒ also known as two-step verification or multi-factor authentication ‒ on accounts where available. Many of the internet’s most popular email services, social networks and financial institutions offer this key security step free of charge, but you must opt in to turn it on. Visit stopthinkconnect.org/2stepsahead to learn more and view a list of the websites that offer two-step authentication.

·         Secure your router: Make sure your router has a strong password and does not broadcast who you are through its name, such as “the Jones Family” or “123 Elm Street.” Update router software as well.

·         Create better passwords: If your passwords are too short or easy to guess, it’s like leaving the front door to your home unlocked. Longer passwords and those that combine capital and lowercase letters with numbers and symbols provide better protection.

·         Unique account, unique password: Having separate passwords ‒ at least for key accounts like email, banking, and social networking ‒ helps to thwart cybercriminals.

·         Write it down and keep it safe: Everyone can forget a password. Keep a list that’s stored in a safe, secure place.

·         Secure your phone: Use a passcode or a finger swipe to unlock your phone.

Week 3: Digital File Purge and Protection

Tend to your digital records, PCs, phones and any device with storage just as you would paper files.

·         Clean up your email: Save only emails you really need. Your inbox is likely stuffed with lots of outdated materials. Delete or archive what you don’t need and be sure to empty your deleted mail folders.

·         File upkeep: Delete or archive older files such as numerous drafts of the same document and outdated financial statements.

·         Manage subscriptions: Unsubscribe to newsletters, email alerts and updates you no longer read.

·         Dispose of electronics securely: Wiping data isn’t enough. When you dispose of old electronics, look for facilities that shred hard drives, disks and memory cards.

·         Update your online photo album: Back up photos you want to keep and delete old or less flattering pictures of yourself and your family and friends. In addition to not showing your best side, they take up space.

·         Update your online relationships: Review friends on social networks and contacts on phones and PCs to make sure everyone on those lists still belong.

·         Back it up: Copy important data to a secure cloud site or to another drive where it can be safely stored. Password protect backup drives and keep them in a different location off the network for maximum security. Commit to doing backups on a regular basis.

·         Empty your trash or recycle bin on all devices: Make sure to permanently delete old files.

Week 4: Clean Up Your Online Reputation

Parents and older kids with social media accounts can take an active role in making sure their online reputation is squeaky clean.

·         Own your online presence: Review the privacy and security settings on websites to be sure they remain set to your comfort level for sharing. It’s OK to limit whom you share information.

·         Clean up your social media presence: Delete old photos and comments that are embarrassing or no longer represent who you are.

·         Update your “online self”: Are your social media sites up to date? Review your personal information and update it where needed.

For more consumer tips on digital safety, check out the National Cyber Security Alliance at staysafeonline.org.

Businesses can do a cyber safety check-up with BBB’s “5 Steps to Better Business Cybersecurity” at bbb.org/cybersecurity.