Fun fact: The internet isn’t safe. I’m hoping you already know that. (If you don’t, we need to have another conversation) It’s crawling with bots looking to scoop data 24/7. To say nothing of individuals who make their living stealing your personal information to auction to the highest bidder. Money makes the world go-’round, and the internet is a money-making machine. (I know; if you were born before the turn of the century, you probably thought it was for social media) At some point in time, you can end up hacked. Especially if you don’t take basic – and not-so-basic – precautions.
“I’ve Been Hacked!” Fallout
You probably know someone – multiple someones – who have had one or more of their accounts hacked. You’ll notice in various ways:
- They’ll announce it in a straightforward post
- You’ll see a sudden shift in their content
- Despite already having a connection with them, you’ll receive a new friend invite
- The tone, voice, and grammar of their comments will change
What you WON’T see behind the scenes is their battle to deal with the interloper. Because contrary to the public stance the big companies have of caring about their subscribers, they make it a three-ring circus to deal with stolen (and that is what happens) accounts.
And if you don’t believe me, try reading the process to reclaim an account sometime. It’s enlightening. (To say nothing of the complete lack of a sympathetic human being on the other side of the process)
Meanwhile, a complete stranger (or bot) has full access and control of ALL of your work. This may include promotional items, schedulers, photographs, audio recordings, graphics, and even examples of your work.
And if you are one of those people who uses the same username (probably your email) and password for EVERYTHING? Guess where that avalanche leads?
It’s okay – breathe! We’re going to solve the problem NOW before you face that catastrophe.
Staying Smart Online
I’d love to say I can provide you with magic solutions that will guarantee you NEVER get hacked. But I can’t (not in good conscience, anyway). Hackers and bots keep getting smarter. And they learn how to exploit every tiny nook and cranny.
However, there are basic safety nets you can deploy that will keep your accounts more secure and make their work harder. Most of them involve common sense, but others take some effort and work – on your part. And, yeah, they mean you can’t just breeze around on the internet like you always have.
But the choice is yours: Leave your front door wide open, or put the latch on?
The Basics (AKA Common Sense)
Leaving everything you use open and logged in ALL. THE. TIME? Yeah, that’s asking for trouble. It’s an open invitation for someone seeking access to your information. Logins were invented as the first means of blocking access. And as irritating as YOU find it to enter a username and password every time you want to check a status update, it’s doubly so for a stranger.
Go to the “log out” button and hit it.
You also CAN’T use the same login credentials for everything. I get it: It’s easy to remember. (And you’re talking to someone whose memory turns to Swiss cheese regularly) But those are also the first details a hacker will apply to all of your accounts once they’ve successfully hacked you. And that transforms ONE irritation into – well, how many?
Are you going to lose access to your self-publishing account? Your bank account? (No, adding one little non-alphanumeric character won’t stop them)
Use different passwords. If you struggle to remember them, write them down. NOT ONLINE. Use a pocket notebook. (Post-It Notes get crumpled and lost) Get clever and use a code, if you’re worried about someone breaking it and deciding to steal an innocuous-looking notebook. Just remember: You need to remember the code.
Getting Clever to Stop Getting Hacked
You’d be amazed at how well the basics work. Because so many people DON’T use them. And that keeps the unsavory elements occupied.
However, there’s another layer you can apply to keep you and your work safe.
And the easiest is the multi-factor authenticator. Yes, it means ONE MORE STEP for your login process. But it also gives you extra peace of mind regarding your accounts. A string of numbers – registered specifically to YOU – is required as part of the login. And they rotate constantly. (Kind of a pain when they change when you’re in the middle of typing, but that’s part of life) Your odds of ending up hacked go way down.
For writers with websites, bots are a downright nuisance. But you can look for plugins to build an extra shield around your site. They scan for problems with your code that bots can detect and exploit, turning YOU into a hub for hackers. Plugins include everything from firewalls to email obliterators (which prevent bots from scooping your published email and sending you junk). And most of them are free to use with your site’s annual subscription.
Paranoid or Hacked? Your Choice
People laugh at me because I have to log in to my apps constantly. And I routinely forget which password goes with which account. Not to mention having to learn how to bounce between screens on my phone so I could open my Google Authenticator.
But I rest easier knowing my accounts are safe and protected. As best I can.
Is it annoying to go through all of the steps all the time? Of course.
And do I usually get the math wrong on my website login? You bet.
Oh, and can we talk about how irritating it is to create new passwords periodically and white out the old ones in my handy notebook? The WORST.
But I also feel only mildly panicked all the time about my accounts and content. (I have anxiety; I am never going to feel completely confident. Besides, as I said, nothing is 100% guaranteed and safe)
The internet is – well, it’s here. And you can either be smart with it, or it can turn around and bite you in the ass. The choice is yours.