October is NATIONAL CYBER SECURITY AWARENESS MONTH (NCSAM). It is a good time to take a look at how safe we are online. I conduct a lot of presentations for educators, parents and kids about online safety, as well as write about it here, and in books and articles. Today I wanted to share 3 important tips for authors.
CYBER SAFETY, ONLINE SAFETY, INTERNET SAFETY – these terms are used interchangeably. In the simplest terms, they mean to use caution and common sense for online protection.
The Internet, often referred to as the World Wide Web, is a vast computer network linking smaller computer networks worldwide. And every time we access it we are traveling the same highways as millions of other information seekers, communicators and, yes, disreputable vagabonds.
As authors we spend countless hours on the net – researching, writing, and communicating – opening ourselves up to more than great reviews. Our data is up for grabs on our on blogs and websites, publisher web pages, Google, as well as various social media sites. Some of us are constantly wired via laptops, mobile phones, tablets and social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. And while we want to be connected to our fan base, editors and agents, we can be potential targets of hackers, stalkers and viruses.
Therefore it is important for us to use caution and security measures while using digital media and information technology. Because the Internet is not regulated or controlled by any one entity, it is necessary for us to exercise caution when interacting with the public domain.
We all know not to give out personal information, open emails or attachments from people we don’t know, or send “crazy” pictures. And to back up our work using a service such as Dropbox or iCloud, and/or flash/jump drives and/or external hard drives.
But 3 things that are equally (possibly more) important for our protection are the following:
- VACATE VIRUSES
As writers, we are constantly subject to computer viruses which can make their way onto computers, tablets, or smartphones simply by checking e-mail, surfing the web, or by putting jump drive into your laptop. A computer virus is a program or piece of code that is loaded without your knowledge and infects files, programs, and systems. It can spread throughout your world and, through files that you share, and/or email that you send, infect others.
For example, a Trojan is a computer virus that is designed as something that it is not. It may be sent through an email attachment or instant message. It is often something that appeals to you. Hackers troll the web – looking for you and trying to match up what might interest you and send you that very special email promising to rock your world. It seems legit – but is not. It is a non-self-replicating type of malware program which, like the Trojan horses of ancient Troy, is meant to trick you. It has a malicious code imbedded into a link which, when clicked, prompts you into giving out personal information, and/or giving a professional hacker entry into your computer, or Smartphone.
The best method of protection is to install ANTI-VIRUS SOFTWARE, which scans for viruses and malware by examining the files on your system for patterns of data identified as viruses. These programs have databases of known viruses throughout the world and will offer protection to you and your work. Most programs will update periodically (some automatically) as new viruses are revealed. (See Resources below)
- SECURE SITES
While it is extremely important to install anti-virus programs, it is now also equally important to secure your own web site, and to ensure that sites you visit and/or make purchases from, are secure. For example, you don’t want to access financially sensitive information, such as your bank or PayPal account, on an unencrypted/unprotected network. Cyber criminals and hackers who are trolling the Internet looking for ways to steal from you, can easily intercept user names and passwords, with their own computers, Smartphones and tablets. They will install spyware on your system which will operate in your browser and allow the offender to track your movements online and record the very keys you press when you travel to sites and enter your passwords.
A secure website ensures that your information is traveling on a secure connection and is not accessible by anyone else. To know that you have entered a secure website, look for the “https://” at the beginning of the URL. This is not the standard “http://” found with most URLs. Also look for the “locked” icon on the bottom of your browser.
A secure site will offer Web Browsing Protection, Protection against Phishing Scams, Parental Control (if you need it), and Increased Security When Shopping Online
You can also install ANTI-SPYWARE programs, which will monitor your system as you use it for spyware-related activity. These programs have FIREWALLS to prevent malware from reaching devices through your network, averting attempts of intruders to connect and/or infiltrate your system without your knowledge.
- PASSWORD PROTECT
What author doesn’t appreciate a secret identity? Or two? Or three? We even have, in some cases, pseudonyms to protect our innocence. That is exactly what passwords are designed to do – protect us! How do you choose your passwords? Birthdates? Children’s names? High school? Address? Or a combination of the above? Back in the early days of the Information Superhighway, simple, easy to recall passwords might have been passable. But in today’s dangerous hacker-hijacking-highway, the more complex your password is, the stronger it stands and the less likely even a determined bot (web robot) will be able to crack it.
The strongest passwords have little to do with your birthday, pets, kids, college mascots and day you met your mate. In today’s “Google It” world, hackers can learn too many things about you to hook up various combinations (using numerous programs) to find that special word. In fact, many experts now recommend using not just a single word, but a phrase – unique to only you (not easily discerned in your bio). Whether you use a word or phrase, mix it up. Numbers, upper and lower case letters and special symbols. For example:
And yes, WRITE IT DOWN somewhere!!! I have several combos I use for different things. And I keep them in a safe (very) place. It is also advisable in today’s heavily hacked world to change them frequently – especially the ones that are connected to your money, your family, your work. Many hackers cull passwords (just read the news) in large quantities, sell them, and keep them for use at a later date – when the heat is off!
You can even use a PASSWORD MANAGER to keep track of all of your passwords. These software programs encrypt your data and store them on their server, or on your computer or Smartphone. You then have to memorize just one “super password” for access to all of the rest of your passwords.
I hope you all have a safe and secure Cyber Month and Year!
TODAY – The mystery continues!
While the sheriff’s department and the FBI are investigating, his new friend, Gabby, gets caught in the web of an online predator and disappears. She’s been missing for more than 48 hours, and the authorities have not been able to find her.
Sean goes undercover to bait the mysterious hunter. But when he becomes the prey, how will he rescue her?
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