Deleting your personal data, like web searches, can be a daunting activity. You need to take it seriously. If you do not, then other people have the potential to find that data. Below, we break down how to better delete your personal data.

Smartphone or Tablet

We have all been here, you're selling an old phone or tablet, or donating it to someone or some place. Regardless, the device is will no longer be in your possession. Because of this you want to be 100% sure everything is gone from said device. No body wants to find out their Facebook account was accessed from an old device being used by someone else.

Thankfully, most smartphones have made it relatively easy to securely wipe data from them. As long as your data has been encrypted, your data is protected. Most Android and iOS devices are encrypted right out of the box. Because your data is encrypted, factory resets make it almost impossible for any data to be recovered. Here's how your factory reset your devices:

Android

  1. Go to Settings > System > Advanced > Reset >  Erase all data (factory reset)
  2. Tap through each confirmation prompt to confirm the factory reset.
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Image: QCTechJunkie

iOS

  • Navigate to Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings
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Note: For either device, make sure you have all of your photos, music, or anything else backed up and securely stored somewhere.

PC or Laptop

Windows and macOS make securely wiping your pc or laptop easier, and more secure, than it used to be. By default, Windows 10 does not encrypt your data. The upside, Windows 10 can securely erase your files during a reset. Meaning that recovery programs will not be able to grab any data after the reset.

Windows 10

  1. Go to Windows Settings > Update & Security > Recovery
  2. Click Get Started, under Reset this PC, and choose Remove Everything
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macOS

By default, OS X Yosemite and newer will encrypt Mac's with a tool called FileVault. Make sure this feature is running via Apple > System Preferences >Security & Privacy > FileVault. Enable this encryption if it is not already enabled. Once encrypted your data will be impossible to recover after a full reset.

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  1. Go to Apple > Restart
  2. Hold CMD + R as your computer restarts
  3. Choose Disk Utility from the options list and select your drive
  4. Click Erase
  5. Select Mac OS Extended (Journaled)
  6. Click Erase

Web Accounts

Going through every web account and how to delete it is an impossible task. Therefore, we can provide you with some general guidelines on what you should do though. Most websites will maintain your data, post delete, for 90 or more days.

Example Web Account: Facebook

  1. From your Facebook account, open Settings
  2. Click Your Facebook Information
  3. Optional: Click Download Info
  4. Click Delete Account
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Example Web Account: Google

Google maintains a lot of data about you. Thankfully they provide you that data via your My Activity page. From this page you can adjust various data logging levels by clicking Activiy Controls. Lastly, clicking Delete Activity will take you a page where you can choose what data you want deleted from your account. If you choose to delete everything, make sure to get a copy of your data from Google Takeout.

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Example Web Account: Apple

Apple also makes things pretty painless for deleting your data they have collected. Simply go online, sign into your Apple ID account, click Request to Delete Your Account, read through the disclaimer, and confirm your choice to delete the account.

Other Personal Data

PCs, laptops, phones, tablets, and social media accounts are not the only areas that have collected personal data from you. For example, smart home speakers, like Amazon Echo or Google Home, collect data on you as well. The data Google Home collects can delete be delete from the same My Activity page we wrote about earlier. Amazon will allow you to delete your Echo's voice recordings from your Amazon Devices page.

Cloud Storage services, like Dropbox, will probably keep copies of deleted files in case you need them at some point in the future. Features like this are great when you need to recover something you realize you still need. However, this feature is not great if someone gains access to your account, because they can easily go digging around and recover those files as well. In the end, if you have something sensitive that you need to delete, especially from cloud storage, you need to make sure it's actually deleted.

Example Cloud Storage: Dropbox

  1. If you haven't already, delete the files you want to permanently delete.
  2. From the file browser, click the trash can icon to show deleted files.
  3. Once you find the file or folder you’d like to permanently delete, hover your mouse pointer over the file or folder name, and check the checkbox that appears.
  4. Click Permanently delete.
  5. Click Permanently delete in the pop up that appears.

Example Cloud Storage: Google Drive

Unlike Dropbox, Google Drive allows you to permanently delete multiple files or all of your deleted files.

Empty your entire trash

  1. On your computer, go to drive.google.com.
  2. On the left, click Trash.
  3. Make sure there are no files you want to keep.
  4. At the top, click Empty trash

Delete an individual file forever

  1. On your computer, go to drive.google.com.
  2. On the left, click Trash.
  3. Click a file.
  4. At the top, click Delete forever .

Example Cloud Storage: OneDrive

OneDrive, like many cloud storage services, will store deleted files in a Recycle Bin. From there you can restore files, if you need to. You can select Recycle bin in the OneDrive left side navigation

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Image: Microsoft
  • To permanently delete specific files or folders from the recycle bin, select those items, then select Deletein the top navigation.
  • To permanently delete the entire recycle bin at once, select Empty recycle bin in the top navigation.

Regardless of the device or web account or service, it is always a good idea to make sure your data is deleted properly. We have only listed a handful of examples and how to delete your data properly. A simple web search should help you figure out the best route for deleting your data from whatever device, account, or service you use. If anything, you will learn more about the data you leave behind, something you do with out realizing it. Trust us, it's worth the extra effort to protect yourself and your data from leaking out into the wrong hands.

Connected devices in our home is common place, and the number of those connected devices in our home is growing. This means there are a growing number of opportunities for someone to access your home network and your devices on that network. Because of this we want to take a moment to go over some steps you can take to help make your home's smart devices safer and more secure.

Please keep in mind there is an ever growing array of smart home devices, we cannot go over specifics for each gadget. One general rule of thumb is to go through the device's documentation for initial security precautions. If your device does not have a guide, double check the manufacture's website.

Keep Your Gadgets Up to Date

Windows and macOS do a great job and downloading and installing updates. Most smart home gadgets do not. There are many reason why this could be or by default the devices does not need internet access, just access to devices on your home network.

This, ultimately, means it is on you to keep track of devices updates. This can be a pain when you have a lot of devices to deal with, but it is worth it in the end in order to safe guard your home network and the devices connected to it. Checking for updates for your smart devices can happen through the smartphone app for the device, if there is one, or by checking the manufacturer's website.

For a lot of smart home devices, updates will not release on a regular basis, unless a security exploit crops up. So, setup a schedule to sit down and run through checking for updates on all your devices. Doing this, at least, once a month is a good starting point.

If your smart home device does have an update, it could take a few steps to install. Some devices require you to connect it to your computer, which are usually for devices that do not have access to the internet. Other devices will allow you to update them via Bluetooth with an application on your phone.

An update routine extends to all of your electronics in your home, not just smart devices. Check for updates for you computers, phones, TVs, sound bars, and especially routers. Routers these days are doing better at alerting you an update is available, provided you log into their admin page. Most manufacture websites will tell you if there are updates and how you can update your devices.

Review Your Device Security Settings

Technology today is very much set it and forget. It is very nice to get up and running with new devices and then never have to worry about them. But, often some of the default settings can be too relaxed on security. We recommend that if your device has a settings menu, that you go through each option. If there are settings you are not familiar with, then check the manufactures websites for a better explanation on what the setting does.

Some key settings to look out for:

  • Internet access
    • If the device does not really need an internet connection run and does not have a check or auto update function, disable it's internet access. Only give it access when you know an update is available.
  • Password for Settings Menu / Access
    • If the device has the option to create a password to get into the settings menu or to use the device, make sure to set a password. Do not make it something easy to guess. Password managers can help out here.
    • Also, if the device already has a password to access it, change it. Default passwords for various devices have a long history of being documented online.

Once again, this routine should extend to all of your household devices. If the device or account to access your device offers two-step verification, enabled it. Also, if your device sends you notifications, like a security camera, to an email account, make sure you have a strong password for that email account. If a hacker gains access to your email, they could potentially see security snapshots and be able to determine when you are home or not.

Be Smart When Buying Gadgets

Sticking with bigger name companies for your smart home gear does have it's benefits, even though they cost more. Samsung and LG can still be hacked just as the next company, but they at least have the resources to fix flaws in their devices if one  is found. Newer or smaller companies, though having cheaper devices, may not ever fix found flaws or support could hard to work with when you run into issues. Devices that do not have a clear way of getting a hold of support is usually a sign that they probably will not fix security flaws in their devices.

In this day and age, we see many innovating smart devices, thanks to sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Always do your research when buying into these products. Look into the company and see what security measures they have in place for the device you are thinking of purchasing.

Keep in mind many new companies have a habit of starting out with a bang but then disappearing just as fast as they exploded onto the market. The last thing you want is a smart lock or voice-activated device, that does not function anymore.

Keep It In The Family

Because of the reasons stated above, it is best to get devices that all fall under the same umbrella. By limiting the number of smart home platforms you install in your home, you limit your exposure to attacks. Some smart home umbrellas include:

Once you have picked a system, we recommend you find products that work within that system. Some systems, like Samsung SmartThings and Google Home, will work with each other. But, that is not always the case.

Now, if you already have a miss mash of smart home devices, trying to get your setup under one or two umbrella's could prove difficult. Luckily, BullGuard’s Internet of Things Scanner is handy at helping to determine if any of your smart home devices are on the Shodan site. Shodan is a search site that scans the internet for any network device that is publicly accessible. Basically, if you find one of your devices is listed on that site, then someone could hack into it, so disconnect that device from the internet immediately. Then, check for updates and your security setting for that device.

Pay Attention to Your Router

The router in your home is the gate keeper to everything connected to the internet in your home. Smart devices, computers, mobile phones, game systems. Keeping it secure is the key to improving your home network security. The big three things you need to do are:

  1. Make sure the router's firmware is up to date
  2. Change the default username and password for the settings menu to something other then the default password and username.
  3. And let your devices connect to the internet only if they need to.

For example, you have a Roku plugged into your TV. The TV may have smart features as well, but they will not be as useful as the Roku is. Because of this, your TV does not need to be connected to the internet, at least not all of the TV. Remember today's TVs will get firmware updates that might fix issues, so it's good to have it connect to the internet every now and then to check for updates.

One special note about all devices that need internet access, be cautious about devices that prompt you to automatically configure your router for you. They do not need access to do that, so do not give that device the username and password to your router's settings menu. Additionally, most router's these days have a list of devices that are connected to your router, which you can control internet access too or block from your network.

Upgrade Your Router If It's Old

Router's are getting better at keeping themselves up-to-date, but you still have to do some manual work. But, if you find that your router is not getting updates or the last update is already years old, it might be time upgrade. Today, many routers are built with smart home security in mind. Many will monitor your device's network traffic and will block common routes used by hackers and malware. Some will even go as far as blocking devices that appear to have poor security settings. Two routers we recommend, that have these features, are the Asus Blue Cave ($170) or the Luma Whole Home WiFi (3-Pack) ($135). If you rent a router from your Internet Service Provider, make sure to ask them for an upgraded router. But really, you're better off using your own router.

Buy a Network Security Device

There are also devices you can purchase that are dedicated to just monitoring your smart home for vulnerabilities. These are nice options if you do not want to  upgrade your router. Some of these devices are:

We will note that a lot of these devices have not ample third party testing. So, the claims made by the manufacture are just that, with no solid user proof to back them up. You are more then welcome to try them out, bu do so with caution. If you are using a device listed above, then leave some comments below on your experiences.

In the end, the best protection of your devices is to keep them up to date. Check for software/firmware updates, password protect them, if available, and make sure they are hard passwords.

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