As we ring in the new year with intentions to get fit or more organized, there a resolution that many of us overlook: improving our digital hygiene. We’ve prepared 4 simple best practices in keeping your digital life safe, organized, and secure on all your devices to help you make the most of your technology.
1. Regularly Back-Up Information and Files
No matter how sophisticated the technology you’re working with, there’s always a chance that something might go wrong—a hard-drive might short out, a file might become corrupted, you might accidentally delete something, or your software might crash. If you’ve ever had the experience of losing a report you spent hours preparing or a presentation you’ve nearly finished, you know how incredibly frustrating that can be. It’s also avoidable, says Ernesto Perez, IT Manager for The FruitGuys. His advice is simple: “Back-up your information all the time. Electronics can fail.”
Depending on the system you use in your workplace, this process might be built-in; most online software (Microsoft or Google) is set to automatically save at regular intervals. But it’s important to check those settings and ask your IT team for the details if you’re not sure. You also want to back up your personal files at home, so there’s no chance you will lose important documents or priceless family snapshots. Making sure that information from your devices backs up constantly to some part of the Cloud—through Google, Outlook, Dropbox, or iCloud—is an easy step to ensure all your files stay intact and accessible when you need them.
2. Use a Password Manager
When it comes to creating passwords, Perez says, our best efforts are unfortunately not nearly as creative or unbreakable as we might think. “We tend to create passwords that we use all the time,” Perez says, for example: “Our home address, our pet, the year we were born… and those aren’t secure.” Part of staying secure and staying sane means being able to combine convenience and safety. A password manager can help with that by creating strong passwords for all of your accounts, and it means you only have to remember a single secure password, rather than of 20-30 insecure ones.
A password manager is an important layer of security for your personal accounts—which for most of us includes bank and credit card accounts, online shopping websites, and more. As Perez explains, having a secure password manager means that, if your private information ever gets stolen or an account is breached, you only have to change one password to re-secure all of your accounts.
In the work environment, Perez notes, “There’s usually a team that can help you if there’s a breach, or if someone hacked your account.”
Another step to keeping your accounts secure is 2-Factor Authentication. This effectively turns your phone into a “key” that you need to unlock your accounts. Some companies offer this as part of their security—including Google and financial services—and doing so can mean that even if your password is compromised, someone won’t be able to get into your account unless they also have access to your phone.
3. Create a Strong File Organizing System
When you’re in a hurry, it can be tempting to name a file whatever’s on your mind when you hit “save”—but taking the time to develop a file-organizing or naming convention system and sticking to it, can save you a lot of time and frustration down the road. “I think that many users who get in touch with me do so because they don’t have good organization,” says Perez. “They can’t understand their folders or file structures or file names.”
Start by including the date in every file name, for example, “digitalhygiene_122019.” As your files and folders multiply over time, it can be a challenge to locate the one you really need in a timely fashion. The same goes for multiple versions or drafts of a single document. Taking the time to make your file and folder names unique and recognizable will go a long way in staying organized in the long run. This is an especially important practice if you’re working on a team or within shared folders so others can easily find files too. Teams should agree on the outset to naming conventions that everyone will use.
4. Beware of Phishing Emails, and Always Think Before you Click
You’ve probably heard the term “phishing.” It’s an extremely common practice, whereby scammers send out emails disguised to appear legitimate, with the goal of tricking users into giving up personal information. It’s responsible for tens of millions of dollars in losses each year. In some cases, an email will pose as your bank, credit card company, or a familiar retailer, and prompt you to update your password or other account information. Other times there may be a malicious link in the email to take advantage of distracted or impatient users who click before they think. Some fraudulent emails are obvious, but not every phishing email is easy to spot.
Always check to be sure an email is legitimate by hovering your cursor over the sender’s address before you click on any link within the message. Double-check the URL they’re linking to; and be alert for unusual typos, poor grammar, or other indications that the message may be fake.
“Never provide any personal information—secure numbers, passwords,” Perez says. The same goes for phone calls, especially if you’re not expecting one, from your bank, or whatever company or institution the caller claims to represent. When in doubt, call the company directly to verify that the message you got was real. “Calling is always the best step” to verify if an email or call is legitimate, says Perez.
The way technology has found its way into every part of our lives can be a bit scary at times—practically all of our important information is stored on our computers and smartphones these days. This makes it more important than ever to maintain good habits and keep our digital life safe and secure.
- How to Recognize and Avoid Phishing Scams – Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information
- Best Password Managers for 2019 – PC Magazine
Jack Owens is a Boston-based creator with a love of good coffee, good food, and good writing. By night, he’s a writer, editor, and reader—by day, he’s a labor advocate and organizer for Graduate Employees at UMass Boston.