Business, writing, Writing Business

Safety For Writers Part 2: Internet Safety

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Last week, I discussed basic internet safety for writers, and this week, I’m going to go a little further into the subject with more tips to help you protect your business and your clients from theft. But before I go on, I need to announce that I am not affiliated with the products and services mentioned in this post. So use them, or don’t use them, I don’t care.

Resetting Your Device

If your device is older or just not working efficiently, then most tech experts recommend resetting the device to the factory default. However, that’s not the only reason to reset a device, if you suspect that your computer or phone has been hacked, you may want to completely reset it to clear any malicious software. I started doing this years ago, and it is rather annoying, because it takes hours but if you value privacy, it’s a necessary step. According to tech guru and Youtuber Rob Braxman, “computers aren’t permanent” and he’s right, we have to change our mindset and go the extra mile if we want to protect our privacy and the privacy of our clients.

Wi-Fi Dangers  

Wi-Fi is a blessing because it makes communication effortless and convenient, however, it can also be a point of entry for hackers. Most home devices are hacked through routers with passwords that are either weak or nonexistent. Also many people working from home share a Wi-Fi connection with family members. If your router is capable, I would recommend trying to create a separate Wi-Fi network for your business devices and don’t mix it up with any personal network. Also, make sure this business network has a strong password that is changed frequently.   

Another tip to protect your online communication is to use a virtual private network or VPN. This type of service encrypts your connection and gives you some protection from prying eyes. VPNs are normally used by people using public Wi-Fi networks in cafes, libraries, or airports and are effective if used correctly. Today, most companies that have employees working from home are insisting they use VPNs. However not all VPNs are created equal, some are free and share your data, while some are just plain slow. It would be wise to learn the ins and outs of VPNs before putting any money down on a service.    

The ideal solution for most business owners would be to use a VPN router which will encrypt your data without the need to remember activating an app. They are a bit more expensive but worth the investment if you work from home and do business online.  However, if you’re going to do this please make sure that you understand how to properly set one up because the NSA has sent out a warning this month about the potential vulnerability of VPNs that are not set up properly.

Browser Danger  

One simple way to protect yourself from prying eyes is to make sure you use a secure browser. Your browser is constantly leaking data such as passwords, email addresses, and possibly even your I.P. address which is why you should never allow your browser to memorize your passwords or login info. Hackers can easily access this info because most browsers don’t encrypt the data.         

Chrome, Edge, and Firefox are the most popular browsers around but they’re not all the same. Chrome and Edge, for example, are both fast and easy to use but not necessarily private. Firefox, on the other hand, gives you some privacy but you have to know how to use the settings and install the right apps to keep people out. Below I list some of the more popular secure browsers:   

⦁ Tor   

⦁ Firefox  

⦁ Brave  

Branding Blindness   

Did you know there’s a prevailing myth that Apple products are safer than Microsoft and Android devices? This of course is false. The reality is Apple products are less likely than others to be hacked because they have a smaller share of the market. Microsoft’s Windows operating system runs on 80% of the world’s PCs. The same goes for Android phones which run on 75% of smartphones. They’re just bigger targets, and no less safe than Apple.    

Still not convinced? In 2013, Apple revealed a new biometric sign in option where users could simply use their fingerprint to log into their iPhone 5s device. Within 48 hours, hackers were able to break into those devices. So much for safety, huh? According to security experts, biometrics are actually worse than passwords because if your device is ever compromised, you can always change a password but you can’t change your face or fingerprints.    

So What Do We Do To Protect Ourselves?     

If you want to prevent a hacker or thief from taking over your device or accessing your online accounts, you do have options. There are encrypted, hardware devices that can be plugged into your computer or phone that offer 2-factor authentication or 2FA. Often called security keys, these products prevent most unauthorized users from gaining access to your devices and online accounts since they are a physical object rather than a traditional phone number or email address which is normally used for two-factor authentication. So if an unauthorized person tries to log into your device or online account even if they have the correct password, they won’t be allowed access, because they still need the physical key.          

Listed below are just a few popular options:         

⦁ YubiKey   

⦁ NitroKey   

⦁ TitanKey    

Stop Syncing Your Devices    

I know this isn’t going to be very unpopular but syncing your devices can make you vulnerable in the event you are hacked or your device is stolen. I understand the love of convenience but if you have a business where your or your client’s data needs protection then syncing isn’t the way to go unless, it’s encrypted.     

Prepare to be Hacked   

Recently, I purchased a computer that runs on Windows 10S and even though they claim to have enhanced security (try not to laugh), they still advise users to store files on their cloud service OneDrive. In fact, most paid anti-virus software also offer cloud storage (for a price) just in case your device is ever compromised. They understand nothing is 100% effective and having a backup plan makes you less likely to suffer any significant losses after a security breach.   

Popular cloud services include:

  • Dropbox
  • GoogleDrive
  • Apple iCloud Drive
  • Amazon Drive

However, the best way to secure your business files is to save them offline to an external hard drive or server that is encrypted or password protected.              

Privacy   

It’s no secret that privacy is a thing of the past for most people. Emails, social media, as well as phone calls, are all being monitored and if your work depends on anonymity, then you will need private ways to communicate. Say you’re a writer who interviews government officials, whistle-blowers, or even criminals, then you need to keep prying eyes away from your work. There are a few apps that offer private, encrypted email services as well as messaging apps and you should definitely know about them.            

Sadly, these email services need to be used between other users for the messages to be 100% encrypted. So if you’re sending your email from an encrypted service like ProtonMail to an Outlook recipient, the email won’t be encrypted let alone private. However, if you’re paranoid or you’re interviewing someone who is, then these services are a Godsend. Here are just a few well-known ones, keep in mind these are all paid services:        

⦁ ProtonMail   

⦁ Tutanota    

⦁ CounterMail   

If you are live messaging a subject or recording footage, you might need something more than encrypted email. Here’s where encrypted messaging apps come to the rescue. Recently, in the U.S., journalists, and protestors have been using these apps to record the Black Lives Matter protests as well instances of police brutality. There is a concern that phones will be taken by law enforcement who may try to either access or delete the content.    

What makes these apps different than typical social media apps is they don’t save your data on their servers so even if someone sues you or law enforcement tries to obtain the data directly from the company, they won’t get anything that identifies you. Here are some of the more popular ones:   

⦁ Signal    

⦁ Briar   

⦁ Matrix   

I didn’t include the popular apps WhatsApp (owned by Facebook), or Snapchat, even though they offer encryption and private messaging because of the numerous scandals surrounding these two companies.   

In Closing…  

I didn’t write this post to alarm anyone, I wrote it to educate writers on how to protect themselves, and their businesses from those wishing to do harm. We’re living in a world that is quickly changing and the old tips and tricks just don’t work anymore. I hope you learned something new and if you have a tip to share then let me know in the comments section.