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Decluttering and Securing Our Digital Spaces

My wife and anyone who knows me well will tell you, I have minimalistic tendencies, and I have a severe aversion to clutter. Granted, my closets and cloud storage could use some organizing. In my world, there are specific places for things, and things left out of position are to be considered clutter. 

Since we recognize Digital Citizenship Week at our schools, my professional learning team has been engaged in conversations about digital privacy and security. These conversations prompted me to take a deeper dive into my digital waters. Do I have vulnerable accounts? Why am I getting so much spam? Who has access to my information?

As Erik Qualman reminds us, privacy in our modern digital contexts doesn't genuinely exist. It's up to individuals to take responsibility for what they're sharing and not sharing on the world wide web. My digital interactions are relatively conservative and limited in scope. Yet, I was surprised to learn several of my accounts, including my personal email address, have been exposed to hackers, data miners, and phishing bots. The younger folks call this "pwned." Pronounced "poned," and call it what you will, I don't like the idea of my stuff cluttering the universe in places unknown. 

Here are a few steps I've taken to tighten up my digital security and declutter my digital spaces.

  • A colleague and friend, Jeff O'Brien, alerted me to a web application called HPI Identity Leak Checker. Simply enter your email address to learn if you are vulnerable to having your information stolen. A report, pictured below, is sent to your email address.

Armed with this information, I first changed my email passwords. Next, I changed passwords and deactivated the accounts with a history of affected users. My decluttering included deleting my Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Linkedin accounts. I reset passwords for the accounts I wanted to keep active. I used a password generator to help create complex passwords hackers hate. You can also "salt" your passwords. Password salting adds numerous encrypted characters to the end of the password, making it supremely challenging to hack. Another site providing similar service is, "Have I been pwned?" Once again, this site includes information about data breaches where user credentials have been compromised.

  • My next course of action was to backup my data, update all of my devices, and set up two-factor authentication on my most frequently used accounts, namely Google. I also ran Google's security checkup to see if there were any additional vulnerabilities I had missed. I went into my browser settings and deleted the search history and cleared the cache and cookies. I installed the DuckDuckGo browser extension to make my Internet searches private.
  • Email spam, who has time for this? I started going through all of my email folders. Deleting the old and irrelevant messages. Additionally, I have been "unsubscribing and blocking" the email messages that serve me no purpose except to suck away precious time and storage space. This post from The Verge provides helpful tips to declutter your inbox.
  • People who've been victimized by identity theft will tell you what a hassle it is to get your life back in order following a data breach. There are many services available providing identity theft protection, the most popular being Lifelock. My parents, along with Dave Ramsey, recommended Zander Identity Theft Insurance. For just a few dollars per month, the folks at Zander monitor my critical accounts. These include bank accounts, credit cards, social security number, driver's license number, passport number, medical ID, and phone number. I receive instant notifications of any suspicious activity, and I also receive weekly reports indicating the status of my accounts. The coverage can be extended to household members. How much is your peace of mind worth to you?
Checking your web vulnerabilities starts with a simple Google search of your name. Get as specific as necessary to isolate your information. Some people aren't surprised at what they find, but most are. Once the clutter has been identified, you can take the prudent steps towards greater digital privacy and security.

Additional Reading

Five Easy Ways to Protect Your Digital Identity. Consumer Reports. February 2019.

How to Declutter Your Inbox... The Verge. April 2019.

Google Knows a Whole Lot About You... CNET. October 2019

Declutter Your Digital Life... Srinivas Rao, Medium. January 2019.

Photo credit: wuestenigel USB Flash Drive close up via photopin (license)


Aaron Davis said…
Thank you for this reflection Robert. Another alternative to Salt the Pass is Lesspass.

Also on:
Robert Schuetz said…
Thank you, Aaron. I will look into Lesspass. I hope all is well with you!

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