Get your digital house in order for 2015

Maybe you make new year’s resolutions, maybe you don’t. Either way, a new year always brings the feeling of starting fresh! That thing you’ve been putting off? Now’s the time to wipe the slate clean and tackle it. With that in mind, here are some tech-related things you might consider starting 2015 with.

Backup your stuff

It’s always a good idea to backup your stuff regularly, and now’s as good a time as any to set this up if you’ve been putting it off. Any backup strategy is better than no backup strategy, but ideally you’d have multiple copies of important data, stored locally and in a remote location. Have some really important stuff? Put it on a USB drive and stick it in a safe deposit box. For most data though, a combination of a local drive and the cloud is probably the way to go.

Backblaze 2.0 (fisheye)
Photo by ChrisDag

I have been using Backblaze for a couple of years now. For $5 per month or $50 per year, you get worry-free, unlimited backup. You simply install the software on your computer (Windows or Mac) and Backblaze will send everything up to the cloud automatically. You don’t need to worry about choosing specific folders to backup, and everything is encrypted. If you ever need to restore something, there are three options: you can download a zip file for free, you can pay $99 to get up to 128 GB sent on a USB flash drive, or you can pay $189 to get up to 4 TB sent on a hard drive. If you’ve ever lost something important, I think you’ll agree that Backblaze is totally worth the price.

Store stuff in the cloud

Related to the backup task, now’s a great time to take advantage of cloud storage. If you save stuff to the cloud regularly, I think you can worry about backing it up a little less. Saving data to the cloud is like backing it up immediately! You’ve probably been exposed to Dropbox and that’s a fine service but I’m a big fan of OneDrive.

OneDrive

With Dropbox you only get 2 GB of storage for free, but with OneDrive you get 15 GB and it’s really easy to earn more (and as an Office 365 subscriber I get unlimited storage). OneDrive supports Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Xbox. I use it for everything, especially OneNote as I wrote about last year. I can’t recommend it enough!

Another service to keep in mind is Mover. They’re a local company, and their service can help to migrate your data from one cloud storage provider to another. That might be useful if you plan on testing a few out. You could also use Mover’s backup service for $4 per month. Another great addition to your toolkit!

Get organized

Are you a to-do-list person? Maybe you like sticky notes? Spreadsheets? There are countless ways to organize your tasks and ideas, and I have tried my share of them. But over the past year, I’ve found that Trello works best for me.

Trello

Trello is the right combination of simplicity and power. You can create boards, which contain lists, which contain cards. You can then move cards from list to list. A typical setup will have “To Do”, “Doing”, and “Done” lists. And let me tell you, moving a card into that “Done” list is super satisfying! Trello works across devices and platforms, has a great responsive website, and is free!

A local service that you might use in a similar fashion is Stormboard, which provides a shared, real-time sticky note whiteboard. It’s a great tool, focused mainly on collaborating with others (which Trello can do too). Check out the tour to see all that Stormboard can do.

If more traditional task lists are your thing, then I’d recommend Remember the Milk. The service has been around for 9 years already, which feels like an eternity in the web space, but it’s still here because it is excellent. It too works across devices and services, and has a pretty advanced set of features.

Improve your security

Security was a big topic last year and will continue to be in the headlines this year. It can seem incredibly daunting to try to protect yourself in the post-Snowden world, but here are two really important things you can do.

First, stop using the same password for everything. In the security world people often talk about “attack surface”, and a different password for every website you use really decreases your attack surface. Because if one service is hacked and you use the same password everywhere, then all of your other accounts would be vulnerable too!

If you only use one or two websites, it’s easy to remember a different password for each. But more than likely you use dozens of services. That’s where a tool called a password manager comes in. I use LastPass because it works across devices and uses strong encryption to keep my data safe (I have used Passpack in the past too). When I sign up for a new website or app, I add it to LastPass and use a strong password that it generates for me automatically. If I had to remember every password, I’d be much less likely to use a strong password (random combination of characters), so that’s another benefit of using a service like LastPass (I take it a step further and generate random answers to the very insecure password recovery questions too).

So, what happens if LastPass gets hacked? Good question. Certainly their approach to encryption is one level of protection, but two-factor authentication is another. And that’s my second security tip – enable two-factor authentication wherever possible!

2FA

Two-factor authentication (2FA) makes your accounts more secure by requiring additional information when logging in. Typically this is a code sent to you via text message or generated in a specific app, the idea being that even if someone had your password, they’d also need your phone to login. It takes a few extra seconds when logging into a website or app, but it’s worth it. There’s an excellent list of websites that support 2FA here. For services that support software-based 2FA rather than text messages, you’ll need an app like Google Authenticator on Android or iOS, or Authenticator on Windows Phone.

Maybe you don’t want to enable 2FA on every site, but you should enable it on your email account at minimum (and get a new one if yours doesn’t support 2FA). So much of our identity and security online is tied to our email accounts, so it’s a critical area to focus on. Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo all support 2FA. I also use it on key social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Of course I use it on financial services like PayPal wherever possible too.

Backup your data, start using cloud storage, use an online tool to get organized, and take some simple steps to improve your security. All the best in 2015!

Putting my New Year’s energy to good use

tasks I’m not really a fan of New Year’s resolutions, though like many people I often feel re-energized at the start of a new year. Instead of putting that energy into a list of year-long tasks or goals that would inevitably be abandoned, I decided this year that I’d try to capitalize on that energy to accomplish a few things I often put off. I settled on three things: passwords, backups, and bills.

I feel pretty good about my strategy for passwords, with one exception – I don’t change my passwords often enough. Sometimes I get lazy and use an existing password when I sign up for a new site, but the important sites all have unique, randomly generated, strong passwords (well as strong as they can be…I still can’t believe that banks don’t allow special characters and long lengths). It’s good security practice to change passwords regularly, but that never seems to happen. Over the last week, I’ve changed all my passwords. I started with the list of sites and services that I use regularly, and changed everything else as it came up. I’m sure there are a few that I’ve missed, and I’ll change them the next time I need to login. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be actually!

The second thing I tackled was backups. Despite having pretty good systems in place to backup Paramagnus stuff, I don’t have a good process for my personal stuff. I still don’t, but I did manage to accomplish a few things. First, I bought a new hard drive and copied everything from my existing data drive onto it. I’ll store the old one somewhere safe now. Second, I backed up a bunch of stuff to Amazon S3. It’s inexpensive, fast, and easy. Lately I’ve been using CloudBerry Explorer, it’s a great app! I’m going to try to back up important data more regularly, but that’ll be an ongoing thing.

The final thing I did? I turned off paper bills. I logged into every site that I currently receive something in the mail for and found that almost all of them have a “go paperless” button buried somewhere in the interface (some call it “change notification options” or something similar). I typically shred bills as soon as they arrive anyway, so why receive them at all? I do everything online, and I have no need for the physical copies. Now it’ll really be a unique experience to receive something in the mail!

I’ve got a number of things on the go that require time and energy of course, but these were my “New Year’s tasks” if you want to call them that. Anyone else shun resolutions in favor of accomplishing something right away?