Spring Cleaning for your Laptop or Desktop Computer

March 23, 2018 by Michael Nuncic

After a long and hard winter, it's nice to finally see the sun again and hear the birds chirp. While sitting for months inside the house, lots of things have accumulated - both inside rooms as well as on your laptops and desktops.  It's time to get into the spring mood and start cleaning up your rooms and your computers.

Cleaning up your computer after the long winter use is a smart thing to do, not only to gain some disk space again, but also out of data security reasons.  Removing unused software or online applications or services, changing passwords and credentials, as well as old data you will never need again, helps you in preventing being hacked or your digital identity getting leaked.

So, you definitely know how to clean your space, but what are you supposed to do when cleaning your electronic computer device? Here are some tips on what you should do:

Delete unneeded software

Deleting unneeded software and data not only gives you free storage space again, it also makes your device run faster. Especially software you once installed as a startup item, so check in your Windows computer system configuration for what software is in startup mode and delete those. The same can be done in an Apple OS.

After you have deleted these links you have to delete the program or application itself. In a Windows system, you just have to check under 'Preferences' for the item 'software' and check those programs you want to get rid of. This might take a lot of time since you have to run each uninstall routine separately.

Delete unneeded system files

There are two kinds of files that you might have encountered during the long winter nights: Those that you really downloaded or those that you got on your system because your surfed the internet without proper protection.

The second kind of files could be downloaded program files, like Active X controls or Java applets. These are most likely stored in the programs download folder and use a lot of space. However, these can be found be the built-in 'Disk Cleanup' tool of your operating system.

In Windows 10 this feature is hidden under 'Settings.'  Here choose 'Storage,' then 'This PC' and choose your hard drive. Then select 'Temporary Files' and after doing so, select 'Delete Temporary Files.'

Use this integrated tool to delete downloaded program files, temporary internet files, setup log files and more. When you are done with that, you can still check the proper system folders if your find some more.

But be careful: You have to be sure what you are deleting, if you are not - do not do it.  Some .dll files, for example, are needed for the OS to work properly. Deleting some of them might cause the OS to not start up or run properly.  Adding them manually again will be difficult.

Delete unneeded data

The most data you could get rid of are files you downloaded or created yourself: movie files, sound files, Word documents, Excel files, and much more. If your files are unorganized, use your Windows explorer or Mac OS Finder to search by those files using their extension. This way all .mp3, .avi, .docx, and .doc files are listed and can be put into the trash bin for good without any problem.

Deleting files by putting them into the trash and then "finally" deleting them is not a secure data erasure. Using this method only destroys the link to those files on the storage device. If you want to erase the data for good, you have to use a professional data erasure software, from Blancco or Ontrack, which overwrites over the data with a special algorithm. Only after that you can be sure that there is no more personal data stored on your computer.

Clean up your mailbox

Regardless if you are a home user or an employee working in the office, you probably get a huge amount of emails every day. Even if you sort out the most unwanted junk mail, there's still a lot of material to delete. Again remember – just moving it into the trash does not mean it is gone. You should at least finally empty the email trash bin.

Clean your web browser

As we have pointed out in our previous posts about viruses and ransomware, hackers use a lot of different ways to get inside your computer and your network. In all cases they use weaknesses inside your operating system or special software to gain access to your system. Using a loophole or backdoor created by an old browser extensions, add-ins, or plugins poses a great risk to your overall data security.  Besides deleting your browser history, you should definitely uninstall and delete old browser extensions.

Check your online identity, change passwords, or close your account

Cleaning your computer is a good time to make an overview of all the password protected online or social media services you use. In case you do not use it anymore, make sure that you delete as much information as you can. It can be difficult to close your Facebook page and your account, but you can do it. If you've been away for a long time or if you're unsure if your current password is still safe, just change it. Remember to use a difficult and long password that doesn't make sense in any language and at least 8 characters long. It should consist of numbers, normal characters, and special characters.

Bring your operating system and software up-to-date

As pointed out before, unknown back doors inside your operating system or software program can lead to data leaks or virus infections. Therefore, it's necessary to frequently update your system with patches and updates.

Check your security preferences

Your operating system, software, browser, and WLAN connection all pose a threat to your data security, therefore, you should check your security settings in your preferences according to your individual needs. When you are a frequent internet surfer, you could think about creating a second, and separate, Windows user account without administrator rights, so important data is less likely to be hacked.  Another idea is to use two different operating systems for different uses: a Linux OS for surfing and a Windows OS for writing and working. Another idea here is to use a virtual machine for surfing the internet, but this could result in problems and challenges regarding speed and connectivity. But it is worth a try.

Backup your most important data

Make a backup of the most important data, so if a system failure occurs, you don't end up empty handed. However, if you do need to recover lost data from your desktop, Ontrack can help.

Last but not least: Clean the dirt and dust from your device!

Clean your computer screen, the shell of the device with a microfiber cloth, and some special cleaning liquid solution. Additionally, you can check for dust in the fan and inside the desktop box. Try to remove the dust gently.

These are the most important tips for cleaning your computer. Using them should help keep your PC or laptop running faster, smoother, and more secure.