According to a recent Javelin Strategy & Research report, 15.4 million consumers were victims of identity theft or fraud last year, the highest figure recorded since the firm began tracking fraud instances in 2004.
Against this backdrop, the Better Business Bureau and the National Cyber Security Alliance are calling on consumers to take their annual spring-cleaning ritual into the digital age by offering a checklist of helpful tips and a chance to shred sensitive documents.
"Just as we urge people to safely shred old paper records, BBB is also urging consumers and businesses to make sure that electronic files are properly disposed of when no longer needed," says Bill Fanelli, chief information officer with the Council of Better Business Bureaus. "Old hard drives, data sticks, cellphones, tablets anything that contains sensitive data should be securely destroyed. Digital spring cleaning also means deleting old files, updating passwords and taking other steps to make sure your private information stays private."
The NCSA's digital spring cleaning ritual coincides with the BBB's Secure Your ID Day. In Chattanooga, two days will be devoted to on-site shredding and electronic recycling. Participants may bring up to three bags or boxes of sensitive information documents, as well as up to two PC hard drives, and shred them on-site for free.
Just as important as physical shredding is refreshing your online life, says the nonprofit NCSA.
"Chances are that over the years you've accumulated lots of digital clutter that can impact your cybersecurity posture. It's critical to remember that just as you shred sensitive paper documents before discarding, you should properly destroy important electronic data," says Michael Kaiser, executive director.
The agency has identified these trouble-free tips to follow.
DIGITAL SPRING CLEANING
* Keep a clean machine. Ensure all software on internet-connected devices — including PCs, smartphones and tablets — is up-to-date to reduce risk of infection from malware.
* Lock down your login. Your usernames and passwords are not enough to protect key accounts like 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.
* Declutter your mobile life. Delete unused apps and update others, including the operating system on your mobile device. An added benefit of deleting unused apps is more storage space and longer battery life. Actively manage your location services, Bluetooth, microphone and camera — making sure apps use them appropriately.
* Do a digital file purge. Perform a good, thorough review of your online files. Tend to your digital records, PCs, phones and any device with storage just as you do for paper files.
DIGITAL FILE PURGE
Get started with your digital file purge by doing the following.
* Clean up your email. Save only those emails you really need and unsubscribe to email you no longer need/want to receive.
* Back it up. 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.
* Own your online presence. Review the privacy and security settings on websites you use to be sure that they remain set to your comfort level for sharing. It's OK to limit how and with whom you share information
SAFE DISPOSAL OF DATA
Try these user-friendly tips to help with the safe disposal of electronically stored data.
* Know what devices to digitally "shred." 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.
* Clear out stockpiles. 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. Don't wait to wipe and/or destroy unneeded hard drives.
* Empty your trash or recycle bin on all devices and be certain to wipe and overwrite. Simply deleting and emptying the trash isn't enough to completely get rid of a file. You must permanently delete old files. 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.
* Decide what to do with the device. Once the device is clean, you can sell it, trade it in, give it away, recycle it or have it destroyed.
But note the following:
* Failed drives still contain data. On failed drives, wiping often fails, too; shredding/destruction is the practical disposal approach for failed drives. Avoid returning these drives to the manufacturer; you can purchase support that allows you to keep it — and then destroy it.
* To be "shredded," a hard drive must be chipped into small pieces. 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.