National Clean Out Your Computer Day has been recognized on the second Monday in February since 2000. It’s unlikely you’ll find a Hallmark card for it (though I guess you never know), but you should take some time to embrace the practical — and cybersecurity — benefits to reducing your digital footprint.
There are plenty of articles out there that provide reasonable tips related to cleaning your PC (in both a physical and electronic sense). What we want to explain here is why these activities are important from a security standpoint, and which of the tips are most helpful for protecting your data privacy.
More Data, More [Potential] Problems
Obviously, the more files, programs, and information you store on your computer, the more of a burden you place on it from a processing perspective. If the burden gets too great, it impacts performance and bogs down your system, which is no fun.
But the burden isn’t carried by your PC alone. The reality is that the more personal data you store on your computer, the greater your risk in the event of a breach. It’s important to think about the things that you actually need to have accessible on your PC for future use. If you won’t ever again access a file that includes personal data, get rid of it. If there are files you need to keep for tax or legal purposes, back them up to an external hard drive or burn them to a CD or DVD that you can store in a secure location, and remove them from your day-to-day devices.
Check out more identity theft protection tips.
Here are a few more best practices to follow to reduce the amount of information stored on your PC and improve your overall data security posture:
Regularly Clear Your Browser and Download History
If your full browser history and downloads are being stored on your PC, you are not only holding on to a lot of bits and bytes, you are keeping a lot of personal data. If a stranger got access to that, what would they learn about you? Where you work? Where your kids go to school? Places you regularly visit? Probably all of that — and more. You can’t underestimate the pieces of data a scammer can use against you. It’s beneficial to regularly wipe away those footprints in an effort to protect your privacy (and improve your browser’s performance to boot).
Turn off Autofill and ‘Remember Me’ Features
Functions like autofill are very convenient; there’s no debating that. But they also open you to risk. If someone were to gain access to your PC, they would also gain access to all the information you have stored in web forms. Plus, they would be able to automatically log into any site that you allowed to store your user names and passwords. Think about what that could mean — and then take steps to lock down particularly sensitive accounts, like banking, retail, and any sites that provide a gateway to your sensitive personal, medical, or financial details.
Think About Who – and What – Accesses Data on Your PC
Perhaps your instinct is to scoff at the notion of a scammer gaining access to your PC. Maybe you live alone and your PC never leaves your home. Maybe you have complete faith in your corporate security. Or maybe you have total trust in the people you live and work with, and know that they would never do anything to compromise your computer. Then again…maybe you regularly take your PC on the road. And maybe you live with a roommate (or two) or a kid (or two). If your confidence in data security is less than absolute, you need to think about the ramifications of something going wrong.
You also need to think about smartphones, tablets, and other devices that pull data from, push data to, or otherwise share data with your PC. Portability increases risk with regard to loss and theft, which makes mobile devices more vulnerable in general. You may feel confident about a PC that doesn’t travel, but if your mobile browser mirrors the data you access from the desktop, all that information is a misstep away from being in the wrong hands.
Taking the time to consider the legs your data could have can be helpful in level-setting your evaluation of your personal risk — and help you realize why it’s a good idea to regularly clean up your data management habits.