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Your New Resolutions: 6 Things to Stop and Start for a Safer Tech New Year!

Among the end of year holiday tasks like taking down the tree, recycling the wrapping paper and boxes and planning your New Year's fun, you probably are thinking about Resolutions. We don't all cotton to the idea of once a year making ourselves promises we don't intend to keep but there is something wonderful about starting the New Year with a clean slate and banishing bad habits. In the world of computer and mobile phones, there are steps you can take to do things better, smarter and safer. Why not take a moment to consider what you might do to step up your safety game. 


1. Slow Down! – so many computing crises start with a click you live to regret. For example, have you ever sent an email to “Reply All” that should have gone to just one or two people? Yeah, we’ve all been there. Or your email program “helpfully” filled in the wrong name as you typed, you didn’t notice and then you sent a work file to a personal friend. Perhaps you clicked on a link that took you to an unexpected website or to a page where you were asked to log in to your bank, your social network, or email account?  With malware and cybercrime so well engineered to trick you, you’ve got to start treating every incoming email, every SMS, even the links in the comments on message boards as someone knocking on your front door. What do you do when you hear a knock on your front door? You look through the peep hole to see who it is.  Or you ask through the closed door, “who is it?” before you open up. Even those of us who live in relatively safe neighborhoods know you have to be alert to possible harm.  Let’s start thinking of ways we can be equally suspicious but not paranoid about any communication that seems out of character or unexpected.

2. Firm Up Security and Privacy Settings – Every online service you use, whether online banking, photo sharing, social networking and others, offers you security and privacy options. Check out what’s new with each one. Select the options that increase your security and privacy and show your children what to do with their own accounts. If the service offers you security options such as two-factor authentication (a better method than just a password alone, this can protect you from a hacker gaining control of your account), choose it. And make sure EVERYTHING you use to go online has three critical things in place:  a password on the screen, security software to keep out malware and an anti-theft solution to remotely locate or lock a stolen or lost device. 

3. Password Fitness Program – Along with setting a resolution to lose twenty pounds, set a resolution to get your passwords in shape. A flabby password is one that you use for everything, or worse, one that is so commonly used it’s worse than no password at all. Typical terrible passwords are things like “123456” and “passw0rd”. You’ve got to set a complex password and customize it for all your accounts. And the best way to keep track of all the various new passwords you’ll create is to get a password manager. If you’re using a Norton security solution, you may already have Norton Identity Safe built in for free. Start using it or download it for free today.  Or do a little research, ask your friends, and pick the password manager you like best. You can back up passwords to a file you store in your home, in case you forget your master password or just feel more secure having a low tech solution as well. It’s better than yellow sticky notes on your monitor or a piece of paper folded in your wallet.

4. Set Up a Recovery Plan – I truly hope you never need to benefit from a well-thought out recovery plan. But before you start purchasin generators or stockpiling bottled water for a possible natural disaster, consider what you’ve got on hand to take care of a computer disaster. Do you back up your hard drive on any kind of schedule? Do you have some or all of your files (especially work, personal finances and photos) backed up or duplicated in a location other than your home? Stop putting it off. Just because you have a snazzy new computer doesn’t mean it can’t fail. We purchased a brand new laptop for our daughter for the holidays and it “bricked” within a week. Fortunately there was nothing of importance yet on it and the store replaced it without too much trouble. What if that completely unbootable computer was the one you work on every day? Are you ready?

5. Break Up with Unwanted Programs and Apps  - Most of us have several programs on our computer we used once, decided we didn’t like and forgot about. On our phones and other mobile devices, the fact that so many apps are free encourages us to try many of them without a thought to what they might be doing with permissions to access our data, browser history and friend list. Lighten the load on your computer and mobile devices and get rid of programs that might be running in the background or sending private data to the developer without your knowledge.

6. Stop Texting While Driving – or reading email, or looking up phone numbers. Pull over to place a call or look up a direction. Get a Bluetooth kit for hands-free telephone use in your car. It’s probably illegal to use your phone while driving and you know it’s incredibly dangerous. (Watch this “Glee” PSA with your driving teens.) If you really can’t stop yourself, put the phone in the back seat or in the trunk while you are driving to fight your temptations. There isn’t a single phone call or message more important than your safety and the safety of those counting on you to drive safely.

Some other tech improvements options:


Put the tech away – the idea of a technology Sabbath has gained traction and adherents in the past few years. I know I hate seeing my kids bring their phones to dinner, so we don’t allow it. Do you think your family could step away from computers, smart phones, tablets and televisions for a whole day? Pick a day, schedule a number of family oriented activities to ensure you or your kids don’t notice the lack of electronic entertainment and give it a try. There’s even a website (of course) about this. Some tell me they feel less stress and are more productive without the electronic barrage throughout the day.

Clean up the cables. We call it “plugation spaghetti” and it seems to breed like rabbits. This is my pet peeve and I can’t seem to win. We have multiple hard drives, routers, wifi boosters, fans, gosh who knows and everything has a cord and a plug. What a mess and let’s not discuss the dust bunnies that accumulate there. I’m going to pull everything out to see if it’s all in use, and then start clipping some cords together to at least simulate order among the chaos.

Donate old and unused technology – if you have an unused cell phone, donate it to a charity that will find someone who can use it. One such organization, The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, will take old phones and other digital devices: http://www.ncadv.org/takeaction/DonateaPhone.php.

You can also donate old cell phones to the military: http://www.cellphonesforsoldiers.com/.  Don’t let your unused technology waste away in a drawer or closet. Remember to wipe your personal data off your device BEFORE you deliver it to the charity.  Depending on the phone’s model, you may need to remove the SIM card, restore the device to factory settings or use the menu to erase the data. Check the manufacturer’s website for full instructions. If you no longer have a cable to charge the device, you might need to visit your provider’s store to get assistance.

It can be hard to pick only those resolutions that truly matter to you. Keep the list short and tackle each item with a concrete plan. Check in with yourself regularly and cross things off as you go for a wonderful sense of accomplishment. Keep your list in plain sight throughout the year or you’ll forget what you were working towards. And set a reward up so when you achieve one or all of your goals, you celebrate! Congratulations and Happy New Year to you and yours! Let’s make 2013 a great year for enjoying our technology safely!