Well, it's Spring, and we're all stuck inside! 😃 So why not use this time to do a little Spring cleaning and declutter your digital life. We all have things we know we should do that we keep putting off. Here are a few things you can do to tidy things up and improve your online security in a time when most of us are interacting only online.
If you aren't backing up your data already, now is a good time to start! If you are already backing up your data, then now is a good time to check those backups to make sure they're working!
Here are some ideas for how to back up your data:
- Buy an external hard drive (it's only ~$65 for a 2TB drive or ~$95 for a 4TB drive) and set up a weekly reminder to copy your laptop onto it, or use Time Machine if you have a Mac
- Set up Backblaze ($60/year for unlimited storage) to back up your computer to the cloud continuously
- Use a cloud storage service like Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, or One Drive and sync your computer's files to their services
- Buy a NAS for your home or office (like a Synology or Qnap) and set it up as a Time Machine destination or set up a file syncing service on it
Bonus: Back up your backup! If you're backing up to an external drive or a NAS, set that up to back up to another device or off-site!
If you've already got an expert backup solution in place, then now is the time to double check that you can actually restore from your backup! Try restoring a few random recently created files from your backup to make sure that your backup is up to date and actually working.
Organize your files
Do you store all your files on your desktop? Do you have a pile of SD cards on your desk and you aren't sure of what's on them? Time to organize! Here are some ideas to get you started.
- Clean up your desktop and sort your files into a place where you can actually find things
- Download the photos from your camera SD cards and sort them by date or by event
- Make a place to store digital copies of your bank statements and bills, and scan your mail, then switch to digital statement delivery
Get rid of that paper clutter in your life! If you have a stack of statements taking up a file drawer, scan everything! Once you've got a place to store your files and back them up, you probably don't need paper copies of everything anymore!
You don't even need a fancy scanner to do this, a smartphone can do a surprisingly good job of scanning these days! Try an app like Dropbox or Tiny Scanner Plus to turn photos of your documents into scanner-quality digital versions.
If you do want to spend a little money on a nice scanner, I highly recommend the Brother ADS-2800W sheetfed wireless scanner. It can scan directly to your email or a network drive without being connected to a computer. It'll chew through a stack of paper, scanning both sides, in just seconds.
Clean up your inbox
Whether your goal is inbox zero, or declaring email bankruptcy, your inbox is a great place to tidy up this month! The biggest think you can do to decrease your inbox clutter is to unsubscribe from all those newsletters you're getting that you just hit "mark read" for the last year! Unsubscribe from these emails and don't look back!
Delete unused apps from your phone
If you have 5 screens of apps and only use the first 2, maybe consider whether you really need those other apps! Before you delete the apps from your phone, open them up and check if there are any online accounts associated with them that you should delete first. Open each app, log in, download your data if you care about it, and request the account be deleted, then delete the app!
Everybody loves passwords, right? 🙄
Unfortunately, it's a regular occurrence by now that companies are hacked and their password databases are published online for anyone to download. This means that if you're reusing passwords between accounts at different services, there's a good chance someone will find a password at one service and log in to your other accounts that haven't been hacked.
Here's what you can do to clean up your passwords:
- If you are using the same password on more than one service, change those passwords now
- Check if any of your emails or usernames have been part of a data breach by looking them up in haveibeenpwned.com. Yes, this is a legitimate service run by a reputable person in the security community.
- Use a password manager! This will let you generate strong unique passwords for each account without having to remember them. Two good services for this are 1Password and LastPass. Your browser likely also has a built-in password manager, but the dedicated apps are a better solution since they are portable between all your devices and are easier to manage.
Once you're set up with a password manager like 1Password, you'll get a bunch of tools for helping maintain good password practices going forward! 1Password has a feature to show you any accounts that are using the same password, and can keep track of which services you use have had data breaches so that you can go update your passwords at those services. It will also let you know if any services you use support multi-factor auth and recommend setting that up, which takes us to the next section!
Enable Multi-Factor Authentication
Multi-factor authentication means requiring something more than just your password to log in to an account. Since password database breaches are so common these days, it's a good idea to add multi-factor authentication to your accounts if they support them, so that hackers can't just steal passwords from one service and use them to hack your accounts at another.
Adding multi-factor authentication means a hacker won't be able to log in to your account if they steal your password from a data breach. It will add a small step when you're logging in to things, but the security benefit is worth it.
There are many types of multi-factor authentication such as fingerprint verification from your phone, face recognition, SMS verification, hardware devices like a Yubikey, or code generator apps like Google Authenticator or Authy.
Any additional factor is better than none, so don't worry too much about which one to use. Often a service will support only one or two different kinds anyway.
Go through your critical accounts like your banking and personal finance apps, your email and social media accounts, find the ones that support multi-factor authentication and enable it.
If you're using 1Password, then it will give you a list of accounts you have that support multi-factor authentication where you haven't enabled it yet.
Turn Digital Spring Cleaning into a routine
While these can seem like overwhelming tasks if you have to do them all at once, remember it's never too late to start, and you can always make slow incremental progress too!
Add new accounts you create to a password manager, and slowly add your existing accounts as you log in to them. Unsubscribe from email newsletters as they arrive in your inbox. While Digital Spring Cleaning is a good chance to tick off a lot of the boxes at once, it's worth it to set up these practices so that you can maintain them going forward!
By making a little progress over a long time, you'll avoid ending up needing to spend a full day or two cleaning up a mess at the end of the year.