Digital Hygiene: What You Need to Know to Start 2022 Right

By Lisa Hirst Carnes | January 2022

Illustration of a laptop computer in the cloud.

In an increasingly connected world, where software is in the cloud and entertainment is streamed, it's more important than ever to protect yourself from digital threats. Practicing good digital hygiene can protect your computer from dangers in the same way that practicing good personal hygiene can help protect you from illness. But good digital hygiene is about more than just protecting you from viruses and malicious actors seeking to harm your computer.

Like your body, digital devices need to be taken care of to ensure they continue to run at their most optimal level. In this post, we'll explore the ins and outs of good digital hygiene.

What is Digital Hygiene?

Digital hygiene as a term was first used by Dr. Eduardo Gelbstein in 2006 when he published the book "Good Digital Hygiene." In this book, Dr. Gelbstein draws on his experience in both the public and private sectors to explore how users can create an environment that best protects their data and devices. Although the concept has been around for as long as computers have been able to connect to one another. Of course, what constitutes good digital hygiene evolves just as the technology we use to connect between computers does. 

Practicing good digital hygiene involves regularly updating and cleaning electronic devices, using passwords that follow security protocols, organizing the files stored on the device, optimizing settings, and more. It's a way of keeping the digital devices used by your organization from becoming more of a liability than an asset.

Why Does it Matter?

Good digital hygiene keeps your devices running smoothly and allows you to use them more efficiently. More importantly, though, it protects you from the ever-growing list of online threats. Poor digital hygiene makes it easier for people to attack you with phishing scams, malware attacks, and other online crimes. It puts your privacy, and potentially the privacy of those you care about, at risk.

Benefits of Good Digital Hygiene

Digital hygiene carries with it two categories of benefits: maintenance and security. Often, these two benefits are intertwined. Keeping your software updated, for example, will remove bugs that might have bothered you or made your work more difficult. It will also patch security threats that could put your information and that of your organization in danger. 

Digital Hygiene Basics

Now that we've described what digital hygiene is, and why you should care, let's take a look at some of the best practices for implementing it. By making the list below a regular part of digital life in your organization, you can greatly reduce the chances of a security threat or other digital-related disaster. 

Use strong passwords

As computers get faster, cracking simple passwords gets easier. Ideally, you'll use two-factor authentication everywhere it's allowed, but that doesn't negate the need for a strong password. Hackers use dictionaries to try popular words, as well as combinations and misspellings of those words. A good password won't contain common words. A longer password is harder to crack; over 12 characters is generally recommended. Using special characters and numbers in the password also increases the complexity required to crack it. 

Use a password manager

One of the main reasons people use easy to crack passwords is because they are also easy to remember. Nobody wants to be confronted with a login page only to find they can't remember their password. Password managers make it easy to store passwords in a secure way so they don't have to be remembered every time you want to log in to a site. At ArcStone, we use 1Password, and for me personally, this has been a game-changer!

Protect your devices from malware

Malware comes in many forms. Some of it will silently log the keystrokes on your device and send them back to be collected. With this type of malware, malicious individuals can get passwords, credit card information, and more. Ransomware will shut down your computer or block access to your files unless you pay a fee to the person who hijacked your system. 

Anti-virus and anti-malware software can scan for known threats and keep your devices safe from them. Be sure to regularly update these apps so they stay current with the threats that arise. 

Update operating systems 

Keeping operating systems updated is important for getting rid of bugs and getting access to improved features and functionality. But beyond that, it's important because each update patches security threats that have been discovered. These threats, which are now well-known, make your computer a sitting duck for those who wish to do it harm. 

Delete unused software

Unused software covers both the maintenance and security aspects of good digital hygiene. First of all, it unnecessarily clutters your storage space and your file folders. It might also have services that run in the background, slowing down your devices and using up memory. Over time, many unnecessary apps can cause a marked degradation in performance. Unused software is also likely not to be updated regularly. This means that if it is used by someone, it may become a security threat.

Regularly review social media accounts

There are several reasons to regularly look over your social media accounts. Some content might not have aged well, and would best be deleted. While this mostly applies to individuals, it's something any organization should be aware of as well. Occasionally, someone will accidentally post something on social media that contains personally-identifying information. Outdated information on social media bio and about pages can interrupt the regular flow of your operations. A regular review of the content helps prevent these and other mishaps from occurring. 

Regularly review and organize email

Email is still a vital form of communication. If a security breach happens, the company will likely notify you by email. Expiration of services failed payments, and other important information is also communicated through the media. Regularly reviewing your inbox will ensure you don't miss anything important.

It's also quite common to need to refer back to an email. Organizing your email into logical buckets makes it easier to keep it organized. Emails that contain important information, those that you haven't responded to, ones you want to follow up on if there's no replay, can all be much better kept track of if they are organized in a logical way. 

Make sure you have backups of your files

There are multiple threats to your data. Ransomware can take control over your files, natural disasters can destroy equipment, hard drives can fail. Whatever the case, losing access to your files is an annoyance at best and a catastrophe at worst. Keeping multiple backups of your files is an important safeguard against such a disaster. Ideally, at least one of your backups will be at a separate location, such as a cloud backup service. 

Use safe browsers

Most popular modern browsers have functionality built into them that will alert you if you are going to a dangerous site. You may have even seen such a warning already. These often pop up when a security certificate has expired and the safety of the site cannot be guaranteed. These types of threats usually come with a warning you can bypass. Other sites are known to be malicious and will be more aggressively blocked by a good browser. Using a browser that offers this protection for you and not bypassing those protections will help keep you safe online. 

Pay attention to where you download software

Malware very often comes packaged as legitimate software. Good anti-virus and anti-malware software will scan your downloads to ensure they are safe, but these methods are not fool-proof. They only scan for threats that are known about and only after the software has been updated to include those threats. By only downloading software from reputable companies and reputable sites, you offer one less avenue of attack for malicious code.

Simplify your digital life

These best practices are something that nobody else can do for you. In fact, they're something that each of your employees and volunteers should be doing, for both their personal computers and for any device owned by your organization. Other aspects of your digital presence, however, can be more effectively managed by a third party. Our website design and digital marketing services can take a load off your plate and place your digital operations in good hands. Of course, we'll also practice good digital hygiene while working on your behalf. To learn more about our services, contact us today.

Topics: Design and Technology