Time for spring cleaning your digital closets

WASHINGTON — The National Cyber Security Alliance and the Better Business Bureau want consumers to use spring cleaning season to clean up their digital lives as well.

One of the biggest risks to identity theft is digital disorder, but the NCSA says taking time once a year to declutter your digital life can go a long way in preventing you from being victimized.

“Make sure that all the software they have on their machines that’s connected to the internet is updated,” Michael Kaiser, at the National Cyber Security Alliance in D.C., told WTOP.

“That could be the apps on their phone or the operating system on their phone or it could be the software on their PC. It could be any number of pieces of software that need to be updated.”

You could be especially at risk if a digital cleanup isn’t something you normally do. Years’ worth of email can add up to thousands, some of which likely contain personal information on you, your friends, your family and your business associates.

And the same goes for stored documents.

But don’t think just emptying your desktop recycle bin or trash can, or mass deleting your phone’s mailbox, will prevent prying hackers from finding it.

“When you delete a file from your trash can, it is not necessarily deleted from your computer altogether, but there are systems and software you can buy to help you sort of clean out all that space and make sure those documents are fully destroyed,” Kaiser said.

Other suggestions from the National Cyber Security Alliance for a good digital spring cleaning:

  • Lock down your login by adding stronger authentication tools such as biometrics, security keys and unique one-time codes.
  • Declutter your mobile life by getting rid of all of those apps you don’t use.
  • Know what devices to digitally “shred,” such as external hard drives, USBs and thumb drives. Even copiers, printers and fax machines store digital copies of documents.
  • And know that physical drives, even failed ones, still contain data that can be accessed. Consider physically destroying them.

The Better Business Bureau’s Secure Your ID Day is April 22, and various BBB locations will provide free on-site shredding and electronic recycling.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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