Over the last 22 weeks, we’ve been exploring some of the many opportunities offered by the digital age. Now it’s time to confront a few of the challenges. While managing our life and work online is convenient, it also exposes us to risk – the risk of losing money, data, and even our identity. This week’s Thing is all about online security. We’ll consider your digital footprint, the tricky business of managing umpteen passwords, and how to avoid losing your data. Brace yourself.
Tracing Your Digital Footprint
Have you ever Googled yourself? If not, try it now. For most of us, the search yields random images, discarded profiles, and ill-advised comments from a decade ago. This is your Digital Footprint – the trail you leave behind as you scamper around the internet. If it’s not what you were expecting, then it’s time to take action. Here’s a few ideas on what you can do:
- Delete any dormant social media accounts – most of these platforms want to maintain their visibility, so they’ll keep displaying your content long after you’ve abandoned them. They won’t necessarily make it easy for you to erase yourself. Fortunately, though, the new GDPR legislation is on your side.
- Check the settings for any social media accounts you still use. Are they making your content public? Log out of your account, then Google yourself to see what comes up.
- Craft professional online profiles that reflect your skills and achievements. Hop over to earlier Things on academic networking and online profiles to find out more.
Be mindful that once you’ve uploaded content, you no longer have complete control over it. Anyone can replicate and perpetuate images, long after you’ve deleted them from your own account.
It’s helpful (and also terrifying) to remember that the business models of most social media companies rely on users providing them with free content. Are you getting a good deal?
How to Manage a Million Passwords
You’re no doubt familiar with the advice that it’s important not to use the same passwords for all your online accounts. This is certainly sensible, but which of us can actually memorise dozens of passwords and reliably retrieve them? One solution is to invest in a Password Manager. These tools help you store and organise passwords, then access them through one master password. This reduces your cognitive load and also means that you can use much more secure passwords, now that you’re not obliged to remember them. Of course, your master password needs to be trebly difficult to guess!
One of the most popular password managers is 1Password, developed by the memorably named AgileBits. 1Password works across multiple devices, including desktop computers and smartphones. It costs $2.99 per month, but there’s a free 30-day trial available. It’s always worth paying for a product that looks after your most valuable information.
A free alternative is to use the password manager in Google, although this means you need to always use the Chrome browser and sign in with your account – something you might not want to do so on shared computers. One advantage is that you can access all your stored passwords through passwords.google.com. Clicking on the eye icon reveals the password.
Even if you decide against using a tool like 1Password, please do spend some time considering your online security. It’s fair to say that some large websites adopt a cavalier attitude towards data protection. If your password is exposed, what’s at risk for you? Assuming you use the same password for multiple websites, the answer could be sobering.
Protecting Your Assets by Backing up Your Work
Laptops get stolen, USB drives dematerialise, and Word is designed to crash when you’ve done your most important work. Many of us don’t think about backing up until after we’ve suffered a major data loss. If you’ve spend years working on your thesis, it’s possibly your most valuable asset, and such a loss can be devastating.
You might think you already have this covered. Perhaps you’re regularly emailing drafts to yourself, or pinging a copy to Dropbox when you remember. However, a good backup solution requires the following features:
- automatic – it should run at scheduled times so you don’t have to remember to do it
- systematic – it needs to reliably back up your most important files
- global – you don’t want a system that’s tied to your desktop if you’re actually working on a laptop remotely
- accessible – in the event of data loss, you must be able to easily access your files
Consider your current backup solution, if you have one – does it meet these criteria? For example, copying files to an external drive is better than nothing, but in the event of fire/theft/other calamity, you’ll lose both your computer and your backup. Dropbox certainly offers many advantages, but to avoid data loss you’ll need to either work permanently in the cloud, or remember to upload your important files. For ultimate protection, you need a dedicated online backup solution.
There are lots of online backup tools available. Most work in essentially the same way: they run in the background on your computer, continuously saving your files and folders to the cloud. You can then access your data from any internet-enabled device. So, if your laptop goes up in flames, you still have all your documents.
A popular choice is iDrive, which works on PCs, Macs, iPhones, Android and just about everything else. You can get a free account for up to 5Gb, which gives you a web-based console for managing all of your devices. If you have a lot of data, you’ll pay around $70pa for 2TB, although there’s a 50% discount for academic users. That’s a small price to pay for peace of mind.
Whatever you decide to use, a robust back up solution will protect you against a variety of disasters. It’ll take you a little while to get everything set up, but it would take far longer to rewrite your thesis.
As we’ve seen, digital citizenship brings lots of responsibilities. We absolutely can’t rely on anyone else to protect us, so it’s important to stay informed and alert.
Here are this week’s suggested activities:
- Google yourself and see what comes up. Is it edifying?
- Audit your passwords and make they’re secure
- Back up your work. Now!