Your technical New Year’s resolutions

Well, the “holidays” are pretty much over as I write this and I hope you and yours have had a wonderful and safe holiday season.

One of the final holiday traditions involves taking stock and figuring out what changes you’d like to make for the New Year. What are your New Year’s resolutions?  Common resolutions are to eat better, get more (or any) exercise, lose weight.

What about your technical resolutions?  January is a good time to take stock of your technical self and resolve to make improvements.  With that in mind, here are some things to consider:

  • Make (or update) your technical “will” — A few years ago, my wife and I augmented our wills with a document that spelled out what needs to be done to keep the household running.  How to pay bills, who to contact to sell property, how to contact our accountant, etc.   This is invaluable if/when something happens to you.  Back in the summer of 2012, I wrote a post on the Social Media Will, which noted the importance of leaving clear directions about what to do with social media, email, and IM accounts.   The post is worth another read.
  • Cleanup and get rid of old technology — I’ll bet Santa delivered some new gadgets into your homes.  If he did, cleanup and get rid of the old technology.  To clean up, you’ll need to securely remove any identifying information.  For phones, pads, etc, see my posts Security concerns when replacing devices and  Spring cleaning old electronics.   For disks, see Securely erasing old drives.  For other devices, contact the device maker to get instructions on cleaning them up.   It’s also important to properly dispose of the old technology.   Improper disposal of old technology has become a huge environmental issue.  Many devices/computers are resellable.  Most vendors will provide outlets to properly dispose of obsolete technology.
  • Tighten down your social media accounts — This is a good time of year to consider your social media, email, Cloud accounts and review their security settings, adjusting where needed.  Take Facebook for example.  Facebook seems to always be rejiggering their settings and security policies.  I’ll bet you haven’t looked at it for quite a while.  It’s worth a 1/2 hour or so to proactively review and adjust.  See this help page from Facebook.
  • Financial health — With all the news reports about stolen credit card information, it’s really important to monitor what’s going on with your finances.  Fortunately, there are several tools that will allow you to monitor transactions in near realtime.  Quicken is a great tool for doing on-line banking, but it also is a great tool for pulling down transactions from your banking, credit card and financial accounts so that you can keep an eye on transactions.    For more information on credit card health, see Yet another credit card breach.
  • Change Passwords — The new year is a great time to change your passwords, especially on your more sensitive accounts.  Use this as an opportunity to strengthen your passwords.  Microsoft provides these guidelines.  Norton (the anti-virus guys) has an on-line password generator.   One note: There are simply too many different standards for login names and passwords which results in multiple passwords that must be remembered.  As a result, most folks I know have a list of login credentials somewhere in their home or on their computers.  I’d recommend having the list in one place and storing the list in an encrypted file or filesystem that you only open when you need the information so if someone steals the computer or disk it’s on, they’ll not be able to read the file.
  • Encrypt primary drive — Consider encrypting your computer’s primary drive.  This will prevent the disk from a stolen computer from being mounted and read from another computer.  Both Microsoft (Bitlocker)  and Apple (File Vault 2) provide this feature.  See the Electronic Freedom Foundation article on whole-disk encryption for more information.
  • Review household security policies — What are the rules-of-the-road for technical security in the household?  Who’s permitted to have full WIFI access?  What about guest accounts? Who’s permitted to have certain passwords?  What are the restrictions on downloading content (e.g., no illegal movie downloads)?  You should know the answers to these and other questions.  January is a good time to communicate to all parties using your network.

One final comment: In 2013, on-line privacy and security has been proven to be more of an illusion than real, with the revelations about the major vendors (e.g., Google, Yahoo, Bing) and the NSA.   2014 will be the year for coming up with strategies to take control of and shielding your data.  This will be a theme in The Family HelpDesk during 2014 as anticipated solutions start to pop up.  Stay tuned …

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