Business, writing, Writing Business

Safety For Writers Part 1: Online Security

Image via Pixabay

I wrote this article because of the uptick in hackings targeting small and medium-sized businesses. Since many countries have entered their respective COVID-19 quarantines, it’s made things worse because most people are either continuing their education or working on the same networks that aren’t well protected. Most home networks are designed with convenience and not safety in mind which can open the door to malware, scams and identity theft.

It’s no secret that we are in a worldwide recession which has thieves and con artists coming out of the woodwork making life difficult. Sadly, this doesn’t look like it’s going to be a short-term event either. In fact, the NSA, in a series of public reports, warned U.S. business owners to be vigilant about hackers targeting certain software systems. This is unusual for them and it has me rethinking how I secure my data. 

Now before I go on, I want to inform you that I am in no way affiliated with any of the products or services I mention in this post.      

The Elephant In The Room  

Ask any security expert and they’ll tell you that people are their own worst enemy when it comes to online safety. They use terrible passwords, or worse, they just stick to factory default ones. So, what kind of password should we be using? Well, according to former NSA contractor and whistle-blower Edward Snowden, we should be using passphrases not passwords. His example of a good passphrase was: MargaretThatcherIs110%Hot. Now I won’t judge his taste in women but his passphrase is pretty solid, it has numbers, upper- and lower-case letters, and even includes a symbol so this isn’t going to be easy to guess.    

Poison All Unnecessary Data   

Do you find it absurd how much information sites like Google and Microsoft want from users? When a user creates an account, they ask for your gender, age, and even your location. They claim it helps them personalize your experience when using their services but the fact is, they use this information to sell to 3rd parties. My one tip is to never give your real name or age, the only thing they need to know is that you’re an adult and won’t use their services illegally. Also, turn off all GEO tracking and ad customization, these things can lead to your personal information being exposed.  And if you’re using Google services be sure to delete not only the cookies on your Chrome browser frequently, but your search history as well.  

Are Your Devices Unsafe?  

Did you know that most software companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Google stop servicing their products after a specific number of years? They do this because they can’t afford to keep updating and patching older software however, users are often unaware of this. That means you could be using an unsafe phone or computer which could be vulnerable to hacking. So be sure to check that your devices have the latest software to keep them running safely. If your device is obsolete and not being serviced anymore then, you’re going to have to upgrade to a new one.      

Antivirus Software       

When I first started using the internet years ago, security experts scoffed at the idea of purchasing antivirus software. They reasoned, the one provided by Windows or Apple were sufficient enough. However now, since most home business owners share an internet connection with family members, they are changing their tune. Before experts figured if users were responsible, then there would be no need for extra protection. But the reality is children and teens are often not responsible. If they access a shady website in order to download music or look at something naughty, your business will be affected if they inadvertently install malware. And no, Windows and Apple products aren’t the best when it comes to protection, don’t believe me? Check out this Youtube video by PC Security where they test Windows Defender against several different types of ransomware. To make a long story short, it inspired me to upgrade the software on all of my devices.

The most popular antivirus software on the market today are:

  • Kaspersky
  • Bitdefender
  • Norton

Email Hacking 

Recently, I revealed that my email had been hacked twice in the past 15 years and the woman that I was speaking to exclaimed, “Oh, I’ve never been hacked!” which is unbelievable. In fact, it’s a flat out lie, everyone and their mother has been hacked, every social media site, major retailer, banks, and even governments have been hacked. The media often calls them data breaches and that means if you’re employed or do business with any of these types of institutions then you’ve been hacked.   

However, most people associate hacking with viruses and trolling on their personal devices. But the word hacking just means to compromise a device to steal data, corrupt files or commandeer a device. Sadly, you can’t control how companies and governments protect your data which will always make you vulnerable and that’s why you have to be vigilant.        

If you want to know if your email account has been compromised, just head over to: https://haveibeenpwned.com/ and type in all of your email addresses.  

Also, on that same site, you can check to see if your passwords have been stolen. It’s worth finding out.     

What To Do If Your Email Address Has Been Hacked?  

The best thing you can do after you’ve been hacked is to get a new email address. I know the experts say that you only need to change your password which is correct, you should boot out the person and regain control of the account. However, you have to think about the long-term consequences, once your email address is on the dark web, it will be sold to shady marketers (a.k.a. spammers) and other hackers who may try to break into your account again. If this is a business account or official channel of communication, then it’s best to start over.   

That’s because a hacker may use your account or even spoof it to send spam or malware which will get your email address reported and blocked. This is why some people find their emails being sent directly to the spam folder because their email address has been officially blacklisted.

In Closing… 

Before you unplug your modem and swear off the internet, just know there are steps you can take to prevent much of the scenarios I’ve discussed. The odds are in your favor if you are educated and are willing to put in the effort.

I hope you learned something new and if you have a tip to share then let me know in the comments section.  Next week, I move on to part two which involves protecting your network and communicating privately online.

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