Tips for digital ‘spring cleaning’

HARTFORD — Connecticut Better Business Bureau urges consumers and businesses to begin digital spring cleaning because the safety of your personal and financial information can be stolen by hackers.

Identity theft is one of consumers’ leading concerns, with good reason. Recovering from ID theft can be a long, complex and potentially costly ordeal, something to consider this Saturday, which is Secure Your ID Day.

You may have unknowingly downloaded free software or gone on a site that slips a virus into your computer. They can steal your contacts, learn all of your logins and passwords and discover your bank’s, doctor’s or dentist’s contact information, which can help them to get you to reveal personal information by telephone or email.

Connecticut Better Business Bureau spokesman Howard Schwartz said we can lose all of our files, even if our computers are clean of malware.

“Hard drives have a limited lifespan and can suddenly corrupt your files,” he said. “A mechanical problem such a crash may ruin your storage disk, and if you lose or drop your laptop or it is lost or stolen, all of your cherished photos, videos, emails and documents will be gone.”

BBB Tips for Digital Spring Cleaning

  • Keep software up to date – Those patches and updates often close security vulnerabilities. Install/apply operating system and software patches as soon as possible.
  • Back up your files – Storage drives are inexpensive and in a few minutes you will have copies of all of your files and other media so that if you get hacked, or if your computer is lost or stolen, you will still have those files.
  • Secure smart devices – Your smartphone, tablet and all digital storage devices should be protected by a password and contain tracking software to enable you to find a lost or stolen device.
  • Lock the “digital doors” with software – Antivirus software is of little use if you don’t keep it updated and scan your device weekly for malware. If you don’t use your computer often, update and scan before you go online.
  • Fix your passwords – Millions of passwords and logins have been stolen in data breaches, and victims of computer-based fraud often admit they use the same password for multiple accounts, or a password that is easy to guess. Often, information contained in people’s passwords are taken from social media profiles, such as pet names or the names of family members. Experts recommend a combination of upper and lower case letters, numerals and a symbol. Free password management software is available online. It can generate strong passwords, store them and log you in to your favorite sites automatically.

You will find additional helpful resources about digital spring cleaning at bbb.org.