Shift Your Settings
to secure your data
Download and print this guide here. Share your Data Detox experience, keep in touch, or get inspiration for activities by writing to Safa at email@example.com!
If the internet were just a place for sharing pictures of dogs wearing dinosaur costumes, there wouldn’t be much need for passwords.
But the internet is where you pay your bills, refill your prescriptions, and register to vote.
When you think about all of your “virtual valuables” that are shared over the internet – and stored on your devices – why wouldn’t you keep them as secure as your wallet or keys?
There’s one simple way to make it harder for others to access your virtual valuables: don’t make it easy for them to guess your passwords. Most people don’t need specialized technical skills to get into your accounts – they can do it just by making a few guesses at your passwords or running an automated program.
And once they’re able to get into one account, they can try that compromised password on other accounts, gather information about you and your habits, take over accounts you own, or even use your digital identity.
As you follow this Data Detox, you’ll learn practical steps to increase your online security.
Let’s get started!
1. Lock Your Digital Door
Screen locks: the password, pattern, fingerprint, or face ID you use to access your device are some of your best defenses against someone who might want to get into your device. But there are lots of different kinds out there and it might be hard to know which one is right for you.
Having any lock on your phone, tablet, or computer gives you more protection than no lock at all. And just like the different types of locks you might put on your doors, some screen locks are stronger than others.
Of all the locks out there, long, unique passwords are the strongest. That means if you unlock your device with a password, it should include letters, numbers, and special characters.
Let’s say you’re using a basic swipe to open your phone. You can slowly bump up your security by setting up a long password. Or do you use a pattern lock now? How about making your pattern longer? Use 1234 as your PIN? How about rolling some dice seven times and memorizing that PIN instead?
A little change can go a long way towards keeping control of your devices.
To learn more about creating the strongest screen lock, check out Strengthen Your Screen Locks.
2. Let the Right One In
Creating top-notch passwords is easy. All you have to do is follow a few basic principles.
Your passwords should be:
- Long: passwords should be a minimum of eight characters. Even better? 16-20 characters
- Unique: each password you use – for every site – should be different
- Random: your password shouldn’t follow a logical pattern or be easy to guess. This is where password managers become very helpful.
The strongest of passwords uses a combination of letters, numbers, and special symbols. This time-honored advice still makes for a stronger, harder-to-guess password. Some password systems unfortunately don’t let you use special symbols (like @#$%-=+), but a long-enough combination of letters and numbers is still better than a short one.
Ideally, you should use a dedicated password manager to generate and store all your passwords. A password manager — like 1Password, Bitwarden, and KeePassXC, the ones often recommended by security experts — is basically an app whose sole purpose is to protect your login credentials and other sensitive data.
To learn more about creating strong passwords, as well as steps on how to use a password manager, check out Let the Right One In: Make Your Passwords Stronger.
3. Add a Second Key
Setting up two-factor authentication (2FA) or multi-factor authentication (MFA) means that even if someone finds your password, they probably won’t have the additional factor they need to get in.
Take a look through the security settings of your most-used sites and apps to see if you can set up this extra key. Start with the most important ones — any finance apps, or services like email, which you use to recover your other accounts.
- Sign in to myaccount.google.com →
- Security →
- 2-Step Verification →
- Get Started
- menu →
- Settings →
- Security and Login →
- Use Two-Factor Authentication
Tip: When setting up a next layer of verification, you’ll need to select a second way of confirming it’s you. Not all forms of two-factor authentication provide the same level of security. From the most secure to least-secure form of 2FA:
- Physical security key (or 'U2F' device)
- One-time code via an authenticator app
- One-time code via email
- One-time code via SMS text message. (Though SMS messages are the least-secure form of 2FA, they are still more secure than having no 2FA at all.)
To learn more about securing your accounts, check out the article Lock Your Digital Door: Care for Your Account Security.
4. Protect Your Virtual Valuables
Just as you take care of the valuable items in your home, you should do the same for the information you’re storing virtually — whether it’s your financial records, scans of your passport, or even your address or phone number, it’s worth thinking about where you’re storing your most valuable personal data, and how you can protect it.
A spot clean is great if you want to make a few quick improvements over coffee. Search for specific information that’s sitting in your email or other accounts and delete it: scans of your ID, bank details or your health insurance info, to name a few. If it’s something you’ll need later on, you can always download it or print it out before erasing it from your email account.
A deep clean is more thorough, and is good to do once a year. Archive everything in your email or social media account, download it to your computer and delete the account contents to start fresh.
Tip: Don’t just delete — also empty your trash can and temporary files!
It’s up to you whether you’d like to back up your archives and documents to a cloud or save it to an external hard drive or USB stick. No matter how you save, make sure that you won’t lose it, it has a strong password, and makes sense for you.
To learn more about securing your online information, check out the article Virtual Valuables: Protect What You're Storing Online.
5. Pass It On
While it might be easy to forget, the web is called a “web” for a reason. We’re all connected online through different networks, not only as “friends” on social media, but also through the contacts in our email accounts and the photos we share online.
When you secure your accounts, strengthen your passwords, and clean out your data, it’s not only you who benefits — everyone you’re connected to is made a little bit safer by your effort.
When you’re cleaning out your email and social media accounts, consider what else you can download and delete that might help your friends or co-workers: your sister’s bank details, the key code to your office, or that scan of your son’s passport are just a few of the records that could cause a headache if they were to get into the wrong hands.
Pass it on! Increasing your digital security can be as simple as following a few basic steps. Share this Data Detox with your friends, family, or co-workers, to help them change their habits in ways that make sense for them.
If these steps worked for you and you’re feeling calmer, then why not Cultivate Your New Phone with Care?