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Clean out your old accounts – or face this peril

According to a digital privacy expert, forgotten accounts can be even less secure than the active ones – but still contain sensitive data



If you’ve been using the Internet for many years now, you’ve probably forgotten how many different accounts you’ve created. However, old accounts pose a real threat, as there’s a big chance they store a lot of sensitive data. If one of your old accounts is leaked, it can become an open door for cybercriminals to hack into your email, Facebook, and even computer or smartphone.

“News about data breaches and leaks are starting to feel like a common thing. And even though we tend to care about our most important accounts, we usually forget that those we barely use also contain sensitive information,” says Daniel Markuson, a digital privacy expert at NordVPN. “An important thing to remember is that consequences that follow a breach usually are not immediate. It can take months or even years until cybercriminals start using this data to access other websites where the same login details have been used.”

Markuson points to the website, run by cybersecurity expert Troy Hunt, which allows users to discover where they have accounts that have been hacked. It now lists 8,506,873,299 accounts and 555,278,657 passwords that have been compromised in a data breach. 

“Those huge numbers mean that if you’ve ever had an account online, at some point, your data was probably exposed in a breach,” he says.

Markuson suggests these tips on how to clean up your digital history and stay safe online.

Make a list of all your old online accounts and start deleting them. Google your name, surname, and nickname you usually use online. There’s a high chance you’ll be surprised to see on how many different social media pages and forums your name appears. Go one-by-one and try deleting the ones you are not using anymore. It might be more difficult than it seems, and this process will require patience.

Another way to find your old accounts is checking your email and password manager. Try typing in the keyword “account” in your email-search. Most probably, it will show old emails containing registration confirmations.

Find all accounts linked to your social media or email. Connecting various social media accounts, services, websites, and apps seems convenient. However, quite often, we do not realize how many permissions we grant to third parties. We freely give out our sensitive information to these apps and websites, and it stays there, even if we no longer use the service.

It is recommended to review which of your accounts are linked, what permissions you’ve given out, and rethink whether you are happy about that or not. Most importantly, revoke access to websites and apps that you no longer use.

Revise privacy settings and check accounts for sensitive data. Most social media platforms and forums have adjustable privacy settings. However, they are usually set to default, so you have to enable the ones you want. Be strict about what information you share. Remove all personal details from your profile, such as email, phone number, home address, or vacation plans shared on blogs, forums, and social networks.

While online, it is advised to remain vigilant. Don’t become too emotional in forums and refrain from participating in heated discussions. This often brings more harm than good, as cyberbullying is becoming prevalent in social media.

If you decide to keep your accounts, make sure to change passwords. Don’t forget to change all of your passwords, even your Wi-Fi password at home. Most importantly, never reuse the same password for several accounts and make sure all of your passwords are very strong. A reliable password usually includes letters, symbols, and numbers.

Finally, check to see if your email and password have been compromised in a data breach before.

Use online security tools, especially if you don’t want to think about digital security. Many of us would better spend our days thinking about plenty of other much more interesting  things than cybersecurity. If you don’t want to think about that, you need to use digital security tools.

A few of the most important ones are a password manager, which helps you to have the safest passwords; an antivirus and firewall, which help you to avoid malware and a VPN, which secures your browsing.