Security tips: Time for a digital spring cleaning

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With spring on the way, it’s always a good time to do a digital spring cleaning of your devices.

For your UAB computers and devices, keep this motto in mind: If you don’t need it, delete it. For tips on how to reduce data on your UAB machines, refer to UAB IT’s data reduction page.

And as you upgrade your personal devices to the newest options, do you recycle the old equipment?

Take steps now to remove anxiety later that forgotten sensitive files on your last laptop could become a source of embarrassment or identity theft. Trying to securely delete data at the time you decommission equipment can turn into a multi-hour chore and a source of stress, but it doesn't need to be that way.

Make sure saved copies of your tax filings, personal photos, and other sensitive files can't be retrieved by the next person with access to your computer's drive by making the drive unreadable to anyone else. Dragging files to the trash or recycle bin doesn't remove data — it just removes the retrieval path to the file and marks that storage space available for other data to occupy sometime in the future. Your pirate treasure is still buried, but the map is missing. "Secure file deletion" functions go a step further to overwrite the data in those locations with random bits immediately.

The introduction and growth of solid state drives in consumer electronics, however, makes overwriting the data in these spaces less dependable than in the standard hard drives of the past. Today's "delete/overwrite" protection comes most reliably from full disk encryption (aka whole disk encryption), which encrypts all data on the machine — including the operating system and temporary files you weren't even aware you created. Follow the motto of a famous infomercial to "set it [full disk encryption] and forget it [the password/key]!" Even if someone removes the drive and puts it into a different machine, the encryption remains in place.

Last modified on February 28, 2019