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One Step Ahead
May 1, 2007, Volume 53, No. 32

One Step Ahead

Another tip in a series provided by the Offices of Information Systems & Computing and Audit, Compliance & Privacy.

Cleaning Up Home Computers

As many of us look forward to the fresh start that spring cleaning brings to our homes, it’s worth taking a moment to think about how a regular “cleanout” of our home computers can be beneficial as well. As with paper files, receipts, etc., we all tend to accumulate and retain computer files longer than we really need to in most cases. Many old files can simply be deleted, while others that still have some value don’t necessarily have to stay on your hard drive and can be archived to CD or other media for safe storage. While this has the obvious benefit of freeing up drive space, there’s also a security benefit. Many of these files may contain correspondence, data and other information relating to personal matters, such as a dispute with your bank over a charge on your monthly statement. The files may include account numbers, Social Security Numbers and other sensitive information that could expose you to identity theft if left on a hard drive that is stolen or compromised.

Of course, sitting down to clean out years of old files can be a daunting and time-consuming chore, but it’s a worthwhile task and there are some ways to make the job go easier. For starters, as you look through your folders and directories, sort them by date and look at the oldest files first. It can also be helpful to sort them by file type, especially when looking through a directory containing e-mail attachments that have been downloaded over time. And, don’t forget to look for old e-mail messages that are no longer needed.

One special case deserves particular mention: because the tax laws change each year, the software produced by companies like Turbo Tax and H & R Block differs as well. Once you have finished using the software to file your returns, it’s generally a good idea to uninstall the program. However, the uninstall routines for most tax programs will leave the file containing that year’s return information on the drive in order to be referenced by the next year’s software. If you’re unaware of this, or forget, you may end up with several previous years worth of your tax information sitting on your drive that doesn’t really need to be there.

Cleaning out your home computer may not be any more fun than cleaning your house, but the rewards are similar, and you will just feel better about everything.


For additional tips, see the One Step Ahead link on the Information Security website: www.upenn.edu/computing/security/.

Almanac - May 1, 2007, Volume 53, No. 32