Depending on where you live, it might seem premature to think about spring cleaning. But now is the perfect time to get a jump-start on annual chores.
I’m talking about spring cleaning your tech.
Given all we now know about cyberattacks and data breaches, it is time to take this seriously. Here are five easy steps to get your computer, phone, tablet and online accounts in tiptop shape.
Step 1: Update your anti-virus protection
When’s the last time you updated — or even looked at — your anti-virus software?
Computer viruses are constantly evolving as hackers become more sophisticated, and you need anti-virus protection that’s configured to detect all the latest threats. Take a couple of minutes to see if there’s an update to your current program.
If you (gasp!) don’t have an anti-virus program installed, you need to do that pronto. You can even get decent protection for free with programs for 2016 that are highly rated by PC Magazine.
Step 2: Change your passwords
Sophisticated hackers are trying to breach your computer, and to break into systems all over the world. If they manage to steal your password from one site — and if you have the bad habit of using the same password everywhere — they may be able to use it to weasel their way into everything from your email inbox to your bank account.
Make their job harder by regularly updating your passwords. In addition, don’t use one password across all your accounts. If you can’t remember multiple passwords, consider using a password manager, or write passwords in a notebook to be tucked away in a secure, for-your-eyes-only place.
As a final note when you’re updating passwords, be smart about your choices and definitely don’t pick one of these words or combinations.
Step 3: Remove pesky add-ons
How many times have you downloaded a program off the Web only to realize you also inadvertently downloaded an add-on program? These come in many forms, but the most annoying seem to be the extra toolbars, plug-ins and extensions that show up in your Internet browser.
These links will tell you how to locate and manage add-ons for each of the major browsers.
Keep in mind you need some add-ons such as Flash and Silverlight if you want to watch certain videos or multimedia content.
Step 4: Downsize files and programs
After reviewing your browser add-ons, the next step is to review the programs and files on your computer. Deleting unused items can free up space on your hard drive and help your computer run more efficiently.
You can do this in two ways. You can open up your computer folders, manually look for programs you no longer use and uninstall them. Or you could use the disk cleanup feature on your computer, which is a shorter, sweeter way to do the same thing. Here’s a link with instructions for Windows computers and another one for Macs.
As a word of caution, if you’re manually reviewing programs, don’t simply delete something because you don’t recognize the file or program name. That could be a great way to delete an essential operating program and end up with a nonworking computer.
Step 5: Create a backup
The final step on your spring cleaning to-do list is to back up all your very important data.
I’m a three-time winner of the “Doh! Why didn’t I back up my data?” award and can tell you almost nothing is as frustrating and heartbreaking as a hard drive crash that results in lost photos and documents. I’m a slow learner, but I now have all my documents sent immediately and automatically to the cloud as soon as they’re created.
But you don’t have to learn the hard way. Buy an external hard drive and back up your files today. Or even better, use a cloud application to access your files anywhere. Many offer free storage that will meet basic needs.
All it takes is one snowed-in afternoon to spring-clean your technology. What are you waiting for?
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