My New Year's Resolution Is Good Digital Hygiene. It Should Be Yours, Too.

By | January 02, 2014

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If the NSA revelations by Edward Snowden didn’t impress you and you think, “my country is small and has no desire to surveil me”, or you think, “but I don’t do anything wrong and have nothing to hide,” then this post should serve as a wakeup call to take digital security seriously. Reporters Without Borders has a barometer on its website listing the current status of citizens on the net, and of journalists whom the organization monitors around the world.  As of today there are 177 journalists imprisoned worldwide and 166 netizens such as bloggers and people who use Facebook and Twitter for social advoacy. 

Digital hygiene is like personal hygiene: once you start doing it it becomes second nature and you’re better off. Bad digital hygiene, like not brushing your teeth, can lead to gunk. Whereas the gunk in your teeth from failing to brush regularly will put you in the dentist’s chair, the gunk from failing to protect your mobile phone or computer could land you in jail and, sometimes worse, compromise the security of friends and colleagues (and sources) around you with whom you communicate. It could be inadvertently opened emails, that link you clicked but that didn’t go anywhere, or my favorite one from a few years back, that Skype pop-up offering to show you naked photos of your co-worker. The Internet is a cesspool of viruses, trojans, backdoors, worms, and more and whether you realize it or not every day you wade through it to get to the content you really want. 

Did you know that a US judge recently ruled that Customs and Border Protection has a right, without a warrant to search your laptop when you enter the United States even if you are an American citizen?  Do you access your bank accounts, email accounts, mortgage accounts online, or pay your rent, medical bills, parking tickets, credit cards and much, much more from your computer or mobile device? Consider that you are essentially carrying your identity with you in an easy-to-steal package that might as well be wrapped with a ribbon. 

There are a host of tools, sites and practices that can improve your chances of avoiding catching that digital virus in this new year. Below is a list of links that is by no means inclusive. Just remember practicing good hygiene in your digital life will ensure your offline activities aren’t interrupted. 

Happy New Year!