Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Spooks, Tricks, & Codes: That's What October is All About

By Jennifer Lovett Herbranson

Often, writers tell me the reason they don’t want to communicate or market online is because they fear a loss of privacy or a breach in security. Security and protecting privacy is a must no matter where we are, online or not.

My neighborhood in Colorado went all out for Halloween. Everyone put up lights and decorations that lasted the entire month of October. On Halloween night, Joe set up a coffee and hot chocolate stand in the yard. Rob turned his garage into a haunted house. Sofia gathered up all the girls and took them trick-or-treating together. It was loads of fun. But part of the fun was security. Travel in groups, don’t take candy from strangers, and beware of tricks.

 So this month, in the spirit of Halloween, I wanted to chat about Internet security and help put those privacy fears at ease.

1- Spooks.

Is the NSA really spying on you? Who knows, but other people are probably trying to. Online privacy is important. Not because thugs are gonna' break into your home after you post your Barbados vacay pics (although I have heard of that happening), but because thugs will steal your information, run up hundreds of thousands of dollars in credit card debt in your name, and send your credit down the crapper. Yes, that can happen.

The information you post is what’s out there. So leave some out.

  • Never post identifiable information: phone number, address, social security number, age. Yes, age. If you want to post your birthday, that is acceptable. Just don’t post the birth year because that information is required to open credit cards.
  • Use a Skype or Google Voice number instead of your cell or home phone.
  • Have one email address for all things commercial/advertisement.
  • Never buy anything without the Secure Credit Symbol.
2- Tricks. 

Phishing is an Internet scam that tries to obtain your bank account information. They come in the form of email notices that ostensibly want to give you money. But in reality they just want to steal yours.

Spam is the excessive sending of emails that have no relevance to your life. These generally come in the form of Viagra knock-offs and lonely hot women. Hey, if you ever need an ego boost, simply look in your spam folder to see all the folks who care about your sex life.

Savvy Internet folks can spot a phish or a spam just by the subject line of an email.  But if you can’t, no worries. Here are some tips.
  • If it comes from Africa, delete it.
  • If it comes from someone you don’t know or aren’t expecting, do not open the attachments.
  • Never give out bank account information, ever.
  • Never give out credit card information.
  • Report Spam and Phishing back to your email carrier. There should be an option in your email or inbox.
3- Codes.

How many characters is your email password? Is it the same password as your Facebook and Twitter passwords? Are they the same as your bank account or Amazon accounts?

If the answers are less than 5 characters and yes, I would bet the NSA has already cracked your stuff wide open. I know it’s tough, but have a different password for every account that needs one, and if you need to write it down, put it somewhere safe.

Here’s the deal: passwords of more than 12 characters are harder to crack and you should NEVER, NEVER, NEVER use the same one twice. Yes, if you use your address, maiden name or birthday as a password, the guy watching your house from across the street is probably accessing your home computer. 

Here’s a great idea I found for creating hard-to-break passwords:

  • Come up with a phrase or jingle you really like (preferably one you can sing).
  • Break it down into the first letter of each word, alternate capitalization.
  • Then add a zip code, with numbers and then with characters.
  • Examples below. (Don’t use them, make up your own.)

She can’t carry a tune in a bucket, 12345


He’s happier than a hog in slop, 12345


I brought you into this world and I can take you out, 12345


Internet security is really not all that hard. Don’t put out anything you wouldn’t want in the hands of a criminal. Never open an email you don’t recognize. Make sure your passwords are lengthy and vary in characters. The Internet really has too many fun things to take advantage of and if you’re careful, you’ll still maintain a level of privacy you also enjoy.

About the Author: With a combined 12 years of active and Reserve time as a US Air Force Public Affairs Officer, Jennifer Lovett has marketed books, shows, concerts and more. She is currently an Air Force Reserve Public Affairs Officer at Patrick AFB in Florida and in her full-time life, pursuing a career as a fiction writer.


  1. Great blog! The Internet can be intimidating at first, but a little knowledge and common sense can go a long way.


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