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Consumer Advocate: Time for a digital spring cleaning

New IdentityTheft Scam

Spring has sprung! By conducting a digital spring cleaning and focusing on personal data protection, you will be safer and more secure against losing personal information and becoming a victim of identity theft.

This means treating both paper files and electronic files securely; destroying old hard drives, data sticks, cellphones and tablets; deleting old files; updating passwords; and making sure you have up-to-date versions of operating systems, software, apps and malware protection.

Here are some digital refresh tips:

• Ensure all software on internet-connected devices — including PCs, smartphones and tablets — is up to date to reduce risk of infection from malware.

• Your usernames and passwords are not enough for the personal data protection of email, banking and social media. Fortify your online accounts and enable the strongest authentication tools available, such as biometrics, security keys or a unique one-time code through an app on your mobile device.

• Dispose of apps you rarely or never use. This gives you the benefit of more storage space and longer battery life. Actively manage your location services, Bluetooth, microphone and camera — making sure apps use them appropriately.

• Perform a good, thorough review of your online files. Tend to your digital records, PCs and phones and any device with storage just as you do for paper files. Start removing digital clutter by saving only those emails you really need, and unsubscribe to email you no longer need/want to receive. Copy important data to a secure cloud site or another computer or drive where it can be safely stored. Password protect backup drives. Make sure to back up your files before getting rid of a device, too.

• Review the privacy and security settings on websites you use to be sure that they remain set to your comfort level for sharing. Don’t share your information with everyone.

Here are some tips on disposing electronically stored data:

• Computers and mobile phones aren’t the only devices that capture and store sensitive, personal data. External hard drives and USBs, tape drives, embedded flash memory, wearables, networking equipment and office tools like copiers, printers and fax machines all contain valuable personal information and require personal data protection.

• If you have a stash of old hard drives or other devices — even if they’re in a locked storage area — information still exists and could be stolen. Wipe and/or destroy unneeded hard drives as soon as possible.

• Simply deleting and emptying the trash isn’t enough to completely get rid of a file. Old files must be permanently deleted. Use a program that deletes the data, “wipes” it from your device and then overwrites it by putting random data in place of your information — that then cannot be retrieved.

• For devices like tape drives, remove any identifying information that may be written on labels before disposal, and use embedded flash memory or networking or office equipment to perform a full factory reset and verify that no potentially sensitive information still exists on the device.

Once the device is clean, you can sell it, trade it in, give it away, recycle it or have it destroyed. Note the following:

• On failed drives, wiping often fails, too; shredding/destruction is the practical disposal approach for failed drives. Avoid returning a failed drive to the manufacturer; you can purchase support that allows you to keep it and then destroy it.

• Using a hammer to hit a drive only slows down a determined cybercriminal; instead, use a trusted shredding company to dispose of your old hard drives. Device shredding can often be the most time- and cost-effective option for disposing of a large number of drives.

Marjorie Stephens is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Northern Indiana. Contact the BBB at 800-552-4631 or visit

Source: on 2019-03-22 06:07:30

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