Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three-part series. Look for the next installment on Monday, June 23.
JT Evans, as well as being a writer, is a computer security expert who started programming at the age of seven and has been a Certified Ethical Hacker since 2009. During his June Write Brain talk, he covered three main topics: how writers should take care of their computers, computer security basics for writers, and what the bad guys are doing with computers.
He also said that the nature of computer security is that it isn’t absolute; there’s only more secure and less secure. Increased computer security will lower the odds that you look like a fat, juicy target for thieves rather than give you an absolute guarantee of security. Often, that’s enough.
How Writers Should Take Care of Their Computers
Because security isn’t absolute, the best approach to security involves having multiple layers of protection, such as the following:
- Patches. Many of the patches that you see from software companies address security flaws in their programs. New methods to take advantage of any given piece of software are being developed daily--thus, new methods to block off vulnerabilities are being developed daily, too. Upgrade and patch often, including turning on automatic updates for Microsoft products, Adobe products, and other software. Check weekly for updates to your software.
- Virus protection. Approximately 20,000 new virus variants are being developed daily, so you need virus protection that updates itself daily. JT recommended McAfee, Symantec, and Kapersky virus protection and cautioned that with free virus protection, you get what you pay for.
- Firewall. A firewall protects unauthorized data transfer with the Internet. That means it prevents unauthorized inbound connections as well as outgoing connections (in case your computer is infected and tries to infect others). A note on hosting a server (as for some computer games) on any machine on your home network--it’s inviting people into your network...that is, authorizing them to get past your firewall. Additional security is required before you set up a server!
- Spyware protection. This prevents your cookies and other information from being shared without your authorization. Cookies are small bits of data that your system stores in order to make accessing and using certain websites easier--and it’s trivially easy to access the data in all your cookies (like stored passwords) if you don’t have spyware protection.
- Do a full backup every month. A full backup includes all your personal data on a computer system but not the actual software; for example, you should back up your Quicken data but not your Quicken software. There are multiple applications that will do this automatically for you.
- Do an incremental backup every week. Incremental data is the data that changed since your last full backup. There are multiple applications that will organize this automatically for you.
Some of the other options:
- Network-Attached Storage (NAS). This is a separate piece of hardware that stores your files; it’s a lot like an external hard drive. A NAS is attached to a network and is able to handle file requests from other computers on the network even when your computer is turned off, unlike an external hard drive; it can also back up all the computers at your house.
- DVD burner. DVD storage is cheap. However, keep in mind that the process of burning a DVD at home is not permanent (unlike DVDs you buy with the data already on it) and can degrade over time--about six months should be secure, but replace DVD backups after that.
- Flash drives. Flash drives use a spark to literally burn the data on the drive. However, that spark can burn through the drive after repeated uses. Either buy new drives every year or use them as a permanent record that you won’t reburn, like a DVD. Flash drives are very durable and can survive temps of -40F to 190F without losing data. Buy flash drives with encryption capabilities.
If you need more information, you can go to JT’s website, jtevans.net.
If you’d like a copy of his handouts, click here.
About the Writer: DeAnna Knippling is a freelance writer, editor, and formatter married to a Network Administrator, and she was still embarrassed about some of her personal security practices after hearing JT's talk. Check out her personal blog at www.DeAnnaKnippling.com or her small press at www.WonderlandPress.com.