The discussion on Sanford’s post on Tuesday started me thinking there needs to be a basic guide to Internet security for writers because most writers aren’t that into tech stuff and mostly only want to be able to sit down and write, then do whatever they need to to get their work published.
The problem here is that there are unfriendly sorts out there who like nothing better than to cause trouble. Some of them do it purely for the giggles, others will target those whose views they dislike (like the atheist group that sent a trapped message to religious groups that would infect them and block religious sites and text), and still others will go after people they have some inexplicable grudge against.
It’s a whole lot easier to take basic preventative measures than to try to clean up after something blows up, so here are some very basic suggestions.
- Forget the One True Operating System wars. All of them are vulnerable. The main reason Microsoft systems get so much flak is that they’re popular. Looking smug and saying “get a Mac” when someone gets hit with a virus is asking for trouble.
- Microsoft has been working hard on improving security without getting in the way of the user. Each new operating system they release does that part better. That said, Windows XP is in that lovely timeframe where it’s still popular enough to have a lot of users, but Microsoft doesn’t support it any more. Don’t use it.
- If you can’t afford to upgrade to get off XP, try Debian (http://www.debian.org) . You don’t even have to lose your Windows: you can burn yourself a live CD and try it a few times, or install and run from a USB drive, or you can install on the same hard drive and boot into Debian (and still be able to read all your Windows files).
- Learn all you can about computers and how to protect yourself. There’s all manner of crap out there, and all it takes is going to the wrong site to get infected.
- Back up onto something that isn’t your computer’s hard drive. Programs can be reinstalled, but losing a novel is irreplaceable. This isn’t just a security precaution, either. Hard drives can fail and you don’t want to be trying to piece together the novel you’d almost finished because your hard drive crashed and burned and took the file with it. Trust me on this.
- If you don’t know what it is and who it’s from, don’t click it. If you’ve got any doubt, check with the so-called sender.
- Invest in a good antivirus. One antivirus. Some swear by Norton, others by McAfee. Either is better than nothing.
- Use whatever firewall you have access to. The Windows Defender is actually quite reasonable these days, and updates itself frequently.
- Invest in a password protection application then use it and make your passwords longer and nastier. I personally use KeePass because it’s free and used by my employer, but there are others. It’s a bit of a pain, but better that than passwords that a casual hacker can guess quickly. The last thing you want is to lose an email account because someone got in and changed your password on you.
- Remember that most online applications aren’t all that secure. Neither are most phone apps. That applies to the casual criminal trying to scrape credit card numbers as much as it does to anything malicious – and if you’re publishing independently you need to make your online financial life as secure as you can.
- Facebook is not secure. Neither is Twitter, LJ, or Blogger. I don’t know about WordPress, but I’d guess not – I’d honestly assume that nothing in any social networking site is secure. Don’t say anything in any of these places that you don’t mind going to the entire Internet.
- Once you’ve got a firewall running, if it tells you something is trying to run and it’s not something you actually expect to run, block it. You can always get the details of what was trying to run and find out later if it’s harmless.
- Don’t think that because you’re small fry you’re safe. Random hacking of anything that looks like a target can happen.
- Learn how to handle a fake DMCA takedown. These get used – although thankfully not often. There are ways around it (hopefully Sarah’s tame IP lawyer can write a guest post on how to deal with this? Pretty please?) There are sick and twisted people who do this for the laughs, so even Joe Nobody can get hit (even though it is kind of unlikely).
There’s a lot more than can be done, but this is a basic starting point. I’m no expert in Internet security, but basic Internet hygiene for writers is probably something that needs to be said.
(Disclaimer: This advice has been checked by people who do know Internet security, so there’s nothing here that’s incorrect)
(P.S. There’s more information on the way: I’ll update when I have links to add)