used with permission from Norton by Symantec
by Nadia Kovacs
February 13th was National Clean Out Your Computer Day, and there’s good reason behind it. When you “clean” your computer, you don’t just dust off the keyboard and wipe fingerprints from the screen. You also pay attention to the state of the hard drive, updating software and removing old programs.
Why is cleaning up your computer important?
Clean software helps protect your data. Internet security software and regular program updates help ensure that viruses, malware, and remote “hackers” stay out of your system. When you maintain your files by backing them up, deleting unused programs, and performing maintenance tasks like defragmenting the hard drive, you help ensure your computer can save your files without accidentally corrupting them.
How to clean your computer’s software
Once your computer’s physical parts are clean, it’s time to attend to the programs that create and store your important information. Here’s how to keep your computer’s “mind” as clean as its “body”:
- Back it up
Backing up your data regularly is a must. A laptop or tablet can be replaced, but the information inside it might be irreplaceable. Generally speaking, there are two options for backing up data: you can make a copy in a physical location, such as on an external hard drive or thumb drive, or you can make a copy that is stored on the “cloud,” or online, in a secure location. Whichever you choose, commit to backing up your computer at least once per week, or more often if you are working on a critical document like a business contract or a collection of precious family photos.
- Protect against malware
Internet security software helps ensure that sneaky viruses and malware don’t get in and wreak havoc on your information—or worse, steal your identity.
- Update your software and clean out old programs
Outdated software is particularly vulnerable to malware, because most updates are created in order to keep software safe. Make sure your software is updated. While you do updates, check to make sure you’re actually using the programs on your system, and delete any you no longer use. This helps ensure that your computer doesn’t get bogged down with unnecessary data, and it limits the number of programs that malware might “hijack” in order to gain access to the system.
Tidy up your digital life
It’s time to delete those digital dust bunnies — that includes programs you don’t use and unimportant files littering your desktop. Here are a few quick tips to get started:
- Cleanup your PC workspace
Some programs automatically create a short-cut that will be displayed as an icon on your desktop. Deleting short-cuts that you don’t use will not delete the program, but it will keep your desktop clean and organized.
- Get organized
Create categories for your files (work, financial statements, family photos, kids’ homework, etc.), then create and label folders to bucket your files into. Delete unimportant items that don’t belong in either folder. When all is squared away — create a backup to save your files in a secure location other than your device hard drive.
- Update your passwords
Regularly updating your passwords across all accounts and devices is a good digital security habit to adopt even when you’re not spring cleaning. Passwords are the keys to accessing your digital life and more important data, like financial information. Make sure to use a complex and unique password for each account. Using a free password manager tool like Norton Identity Safe can make logging into your favorite sites easier and more secure. Plus, always opt-in to two factor authentication when the services you use offer this in addition to password protection.
Don’t forget about your digital footprint
Your “digital footprint” includes all traces of your online activity, from commenting on news pieces or social media to making online purchases. Here’s how you can check on yours:
- Enter your name into several search engines
Use multiple search engines to perform a search for your first and last name. If you’ve recently changed your name, look up both your prior name and your current one. Try the common misspellings as well. Review the first two pages of results. Are they positive? Do they show you in a professional and respectable light? If anything comes up that you don’t like, ask the site administrator to take it down.
- Double-check your privacy settings, but don’t trust them
Privacy settings on social media allow you to control who sees your posts on your social media streams. Spend some time getting to know these settings so you can use them fully — for example, Facebook allows you not only to limit posts merely to “friends,” but also to make customized lists of people who can see certain posts. However, don’t assume that privacy settings will protect you anywhere but on the social media site that uses them. For example, some Facebook users have reported finding their “friends-locked” photographs as public images on Google Image Search.
Cleaning house: securing your kids’ data
While your kids are minding their chores to help spring clean the house offline, keep their digital presence not only tidy but also secure. Educate yourself and your family about social networking — be responsible about what you share and how to use privacy settings and restrictions. Information such as real names, a child’s age, their school’s name and the city that they live in should not be shared publicly to avoid risks like identity theft or cyberstalking. With the free Norton Family tool, parents can monitor kids’ social network use, protect sensitive personal information, and much more. Norton Family social network monitoring provides insights into kids’ social media use, including how frequently they log in to Facebook from their PC, and the name and age they use on their profile.
Out with the old: wipe away your digital data
Donating and recycling old devices is a great way to de-clutter — just be sure you are not recycling your data in the process. If your data is recovered on an old device it can be used to commit identity theft or fraud. Make a secure backup of your irreplaceable photos and files with Norton Security with Backup. Then delete and wipe devices of all data and reset to factory settings. Lastly don’t forget to remove any SIM or memory cards.