Keeping your windows clean

Know your way around the Internet? John Allan highlights the traces we leave behind, and shows us how to improve our online security.

Know your way around the Internet? John Allan highlights the traces we leave behind, and shows us how to improve our online security.

Judging by the number of blogs, tweets and Facebook entries that emanate from youth workers, we're a pretty communicative bunch. Well, I suppose that's one of the requirements of the job, so no surprises there; but I do wonder how much personal information we're all giving away for free. Just how secure are you? If someone devious wanted to use your information to harm you - or, horrible thought, to harm your young people - how easy would that be? The way you use your Internet connection could be just like taking the group away to a residential centre, and leaving the door open all night...

So let's improve your security. First, use Lastpass to keep all your passwords safe; it not only stores them impregnably, but also helpfully fills them in automatically whenever you need them. So you have to remember only one password - for Lastpass itself - and all the others are sorted. Second, make sure your passwords are as strong as possible; remember that capitals, numerals and unusual symbols are much harder to crack, so 'WobblingtonBaptist' is much weaker than 'W*bbllngt*nBtaptlst', for example.

Third, remember that deleted files are still there on your hard disk and can be recovered. Unless, that is, you overwrite them, which Window Washer (or Permanent Eraser for Macs) will do very effectively, as well as clearing junk and debris from your hard disk.

Have you enthusiastically signed up for free accounts at websites you never use? Would you like to leave Facebook or Yahoo permanently and utterly? Deleteyouraccount will search for information you've left scattered over the web, and tell you how to erase it. Want to shred old files for absolute secrecy? If you're using Windows 7 or Vista, Multitrash puts a litter bin on your desktop which will instantly recycle, delete or shred.

Finally, there may be times when you want to extract a video from a suspiciously dodgy site, or sign up for something temporarily without receiving nagging e-mails from the site owners forever afterwards. Tor is free software (for Windows or Mac), which enables you to browse anonymously and safely.

It's worth taking half an hour to review your safety precautions. Then you'll know the door's locked, your kids are safe, and intruders can't do them any damage.