Information Hygiene

This post was inspired by the happy-go-lucky coincidences of life that I sometimes experience:

First, my spring semester undergraduate syllabi now include this statement, beneath “This course requires that you know how to do the following” in the section on digital literacy:

  • Verify Canvas submissions. An unreadable, blank, or incorrect file submitted for an assignment earns a grade of zero.

It’s not worth my time chasing down students who accidentally or deliberately upload corrupted or mislabeled files. I am also a firm believer in teaching professional norms. Not caring to check whether one has done what is required isn’t a sound strategy for career advancement.

Second, I just finished the book Sandworm, by Andy Greenberg, about Russian cyberwarfare tactics, which reminded me of the zero-day vulnerabilities that are regularly discovered in Microsoft products.

Third, per my New Year’s penchant for information dieting, I unsubscribed from several mailing lists that had been adding pointless emails to my inbox for the last year.

These three actions led me to a fourth: making sure that current versions of my important files were backed up across different cloud services and physical devices.

Sandworm is filled with examples of digital infrastructure being taken offline, if not permanently destroyed, by hackers. If this can happen to electrical utilities, hospitals, and international shipping companies, it can happen to you. Same situation if you lose your job: you are immediately locked out of your employer’s IT network. Without warning, you have lost access to your office email and file drives. Or perhaps it’s just a fried laptop because your cat projectile vomited into it (no, this didn’t actually happen, but it was a near miss). Whatever the case, redundancy is resiliency.

As for unsubscribing from mailing lists, the fewer emails I receive, the less likely I’m going to fall victim to phishing or malware. I also spend less time and attention hitting the delete key.