Many people see spring as an opportunity to give their living environment a fresh start — to clear out clutter, consolidate your belongings, get organized and clean everything down to the studs. As a cybersecurity expert, I also like to look at the eponymous “spring clean” from a digital perspective. We live online just as much as we do “offline” in our homes and apartments, so we need to be taking the time to refresh and update our security and eliminate bad digital habits.
As cybersecurity best practice, you’d ideally be “spring cleaning” multiple times per year, but we’ll start with the baby steps. Here are six things you absolutely need to include in your digital deep clean:
Update your passwords
Like wearing a seatbelt, it’s critical to do this before an incident arises to keep yourself protected. Every day you continue to use a weak password or opt out of using two-factor authentication, you’re testing fate. But with data breaches and large cyber attacks becoming increasingly common, some of this will still be outside our control. As an extra layer of safety, I like to frequently check my passwords against Troy Hunt’s Have I Been Pwned tool— you can quickly search to see which of your passwords or emails have been exposed in large-scale corporate data breaches so you can know which ones to change immediately.
Use a password manager
I have over 400 sites and apps that all have different username and password combinations. I couldn’t possibly track and clean them on my own, which is why I’m a fan of products like LastPass, which will automatically help you change and (obviously) manage tons of passwords in a single click.And seriously: If you're not using a password manager, now is the best time to get one. Even if you’re just using the free password feature inside the Google Chrome environment, it’s important that you use something.
Clean your browser
Over the years, our browsers — like our junk drawers, or coat closets — get slower and cluttered because of unused data that’s just sitting there taking up space. To get that speed and space back, you need to delete our histories, cached files and cookies. And because I know you’re going to say, “But I’ll have to re-log into all my sites!” my response is, “That’s the point!” We all love the concept of convenience, but introducing a little inconvenience in the name of security and cleanliness pays off. Plus, having to re-log into website may alert you to new features (for example, they may have introduced two-factor authentication since the last time you logged on) and refreshing your cache and cookies will also clean up your ad targeting, so you aren’t getting hit with the same ad for that swimsuit you Googled seven months ago anymore.
Remove mobile app bloat
We’ve all gone through our closet and asked, “Do I still need that?” And now it’s time to do that with the apps on your phone. We often load apps for specific purposes — like conferences or travel — but after we’re done with them we forget to uninstall them or tuck them away in a folder we don’t check. Just uninstall them! You can always reinstall it later if you need, and by removing it you aren’t taxing your devices (or sharing your location or other personal information) unnecessarily. If you get a password manager, it’ll automatically store your account and password info for the app, so downloading it when you need and logging back in is easy.
Refresh your system
In addition to your browser, you should also look at refreshing your entire system, with it’s a phone, laptop or smart devices in your home. You’ll be shocked how much faster your system is after a simple hard refresh. I often have family members ask for help with a slow system, and simple format and reinstall often does the trick.
As humans, we rely on shelves, drawers, boxes, cupboards and closets in an attempt to bring order to all the things and stuff we carry with us through life. When it comes to our digital “lives,” good habits and frequently self-auditing our security can help keep us just as organized.