With the weather warming up, it’s time for spring cleaning. Not just the closets, not the house, or the backyard, but all the computers and mobile devices can benefit from some TLC. Boost the security defenses, upgrade software, and make sure the data is protected.
The first step is to backup the data. The last thing you want to do is to lose all the images or documents because of an unintended snafu while cleaning up. Copy all the files onto an external drive or look into one of the many cloud storage services where you can sync your data automatically.
Once the data is safe, it’s time to scrutinize every single piece of software installed on the computer, starting with the operating system. Do you really need to be running Windows XP? Microsoft is ending support for the aging operating system. For Mac users, Snow Leopard is getting old, too. Maybe it’s time to upgrade to a more modern OS.
Regardless of the OS version, though, let’s make sure all the latest security updates have been downloaded and installed. If you have been keeping up with the updates, this step is pretty quick. If it has been a while, you may need to download, install, and reboot; wash, rinse, and repeat.
After the operating system, it’s important to consider every application installed on the computer—word processing suite, PDF software, Web browsers, etc—and make sure they are all up-to-date. Are there applications you no longer use? Uninstall them. Do you have several versions of the same software? Get rid of the older ones. Do you even use those applications that came pre-installed with the machine? If not, dump them.
Many Web-based attacks check to see what software is installed on the computer and exploit the security flaw in a vulnerable application to download malware. It’s worth taking the time to remove applications you don’t use as they could wind up being a potential attack vector someday.
Are all your applications up-to-date and on the latest version? Most recent versions of Web browsers and PDF software have a number of built-in defensive features designed to thwart malware and Web-based attacks. Sure, you can get by with Adobe Reader 9 and it may “still work just fine,” but it is less secure than Reader X or XI, which as the sandbox technology to trap malicious code and prevent them from executing and affecting the computer.
Check the vendor Website to find out if there are any software updates available. Update your personal firewall and security software to make sure you have the most up-to-date security protection. Is it time to renew the software subscription? It’s important to stay current with renewal dates, because if the subscription lapses, the software becomes less effective at protecting you from the latest threats.
Once all the applications are updated, it’s time to run the fullest, deepest, most complete scan possible on all the drive, even the external ones. Don’t forget to install and run anti-spyware tools to clean out any adware and spyware that may be lurking on your computer.
Mobile devices can use a similar level of attention, too. If it’s possible, update your mobile OS to the latest version. Go through all the apps to make sure you know what they do and that you actually use them. Several security companies offer mobile security apps that scan apps and Websites to make sure they are safe. Other apps offer features, such as to remote lock, to prevent someone else from using the device if you lose it, or remote wipe to entirely erase the data if the device is stolen.
Running updates and upgrading are tasks that can be—and should be—done throughout the year. At least once a year, though, take a look at what software you are running and purge whatever you don’t need. Done right, spring cleaning can make your electronics more secure.