Resources for Writers
Keeping Safe Online by LaToya Gay
For modern authors, the dream of self-publishing is no longer as unattainable as it once was just a few decades ago. With the power of the internet and e-books, it is quite possible to publish not one, but several long or short novels almost entirely on your own.
Of course, the internet also brings new challenges as well. Authors in the previous century had to worry about dropping their manuscript into a puddle; modern writers face a host of problems brought on by technology and a new wave of criminals under a broad umbrella as “hackers.”
For that, there are some things you should consider to better protect your work from the digital world at large. Not to worry—most of what you can do is relatively simple, requiring only minor technical expertise and just a bit of alertness.
Safety on the Go
As writers, we tend to do our fair share of sitting. Sometimes that creates a real need to get up and expand our creativity by visiting the rest of the world. We draw inspiration from the outdoors, from the local café or from more exotic scenery.
The persistent need for an internet connection drives many of us to locations with open WiFi. Yet a little-known fact is how dangerous public WiFi can be. Hackers are at their strongest on unsafe networks, where they can prey on anyone connected without an encryption service. That’s where your pre-planning can come in.
If you utilize a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service, the problem goes away. A VPN protects you from the sniffing programs hackers use on open networks by encrypting your device’s connection and hiding your IP address. You become a phantom safely accessing the net at your leisure.
There are tons of VPNs out there, so finding a good one can be difficult. We tend to recommend this VPN review by Secure Thoughts to narrow it down to a few of the best, as shopping for a service you’re unfamiliar with can be difficult without a guide.
Keeping Your Accounts Safe
Being a writer doesn’t make you different from other users when it comes to holding accounts—you probably have more than a dozen that you actively access, with another dozen or so that you barely remember opening.
This is normal, but it also puts you at risk. There’s a tendency to reuse passwords and not make strong passwords as the number of accounts increases just to make remembering them easier.
If you use an encrypted password manager, you can auto-generate complicated passwords and just use a single master password to access your accounts when you want to log in. LastPass is a well-known service that does exactly that.
When available, you might also consider utilizing two-factor authentication; logins will then require a second, temporary password usually sent to your phone.
Plan Ahead With Backups
Sadly, you can’t always count on technology to survive life’s many disasters. I’ve personally lost no fewer than three computers to various accidents, from failed hardware to electrical storms. Losing your work is a real threat.
Having several backups of anything important is, therefore, crucial to safeguarding your work from any bad happenstances. There are a few ways for you to do this.
- Store files online
- Save copies on a portable thumb drive/hard drive
- Use a backup manager
When it comes to backups, I tend to prefer lower cost choices. Online storage services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and iCloud are all great ways to store files safely away from where natural disasters can strike.
For convenience, you can also utilize a thumb drive or plug-in hard drive. These handy little devices will allow you to store a physical copy. Just remember to update the files as you work on them.
For the “fire and forget” crowd, you may want to look into paying for a regular backup service. Backup managers will automatically back up and update your files on a regular basis, eliminating the need for you to do so yourself.
Check Your Email—Safely
One last area that can get you into trouble quickly is right in your inbox. When you go to check your email, you run into spam; some of it gets filtered into the junk box, but enough gets through to pose a serious threat. This is especially true if your work is growing in popularity.
To identify unsafe emails, you need to understand where they come from and what they ask for. “Phishing” emails are typically sent by email addresses trying to appear legitimate. The two main types of phishing will appear as thus:
- An email requesting or demanding private information (account name and password are favorites, as well as billing addresses or social security numbers)
- A “reset or verify” email that asks you to visit a website to input your current information to change your password or verify your account
Know this about the first type of email: companies will never ask you for your password because they already have it. If an email is asking for that kind of information, delete it; it’s no good.
The second type of email is a little trickier. Ask yourself if you requested the email; did you try to reset your password? If not, don’t visit. Consider the URL address that the email is trying to send you to as well. Know that the website’s true address is the last string before the .com, .net, .org, or another suffix.
Despite some of the above difficulties, self-publishing is still largely preferable to the headaches involved with going through a large publisher. If you have an experience to share about your own self-publishing, post in the comments below.
(c) LaToya Gay
Latoya is an internet and technology specialist. She blogs on topics ranging from how individual users can stay safe online to how businesses can build a safer infrastructure to keep themselves safe from growing threats.