Sunday, August 7, 2011

My Computer is Secure, or is it?

Besides “True” or “False,” you might have been thinking “always,” “never,” “sometimes” or some other colorful metaphor in response. Unless you write and submit your manuscripts by pen and paper, your computer is the means that allows you to “pen” your stories, articles, and blog posts. Your computer allows you to email your fellow ACFW members, update your facebook account, send tweets, and connect you to your readers. With all of these technological wonders at your disposal, you have the makings of a giant technological mountain to climb in order to keep your software up-to-date and secure.

Technology organizes your life, allows you to electronically communicate with others, and enables you to publish your stories. Writers depend on their computers, tablets, internet connections, wifi signals, and smartphones to accomplish all the tasks that writers perform. The personal computer is at the center of all of these devices. It is not a far stretch to say that your writing life revolves around your computer. But, as you probably well know, technology can also be very frustrating, difficult, and in some cases, dangerous. “Dangerous,” you might be thinking with an unbelieving look on your face. Yes. Unfortunately, there are people out there in cyberspace that count on users NOT keeping their computer (or other device) secure by not knowing how to do so. I hope that you have not been taken down that road. 

In an effort to streamline the security process, I have developed 10 quick-and-easy guideposts that can keep you from getting over burdened by all the actions you must take in order to keep your computer (or any tech device) secure and safe.

Knowing is half the battle:
  1. Develop 5 sources of information on the internet where you routinely look for help and to keep up-to-date with security threats for your devices. These sources should always be the ones that are the most current. Why 5? Because there are TONS of resources on the internet. If you spend all of your time checking endless websites, you will never get any writing done. By having a few good specific sources to check, you maximize the time you spend searching and increase the chances of finding what you are looking for. TIP: the first place you should always look is the website of the company that made your device: Apple, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia, AT&T, Verizon, etc. Look for knowledge base articles and a user support forum within these websites.
  2. Develop some “go to” people that are familiar with your devices that do not mind you calling on them for help. As they help you understand your tech, make every effort to learn the how and why in regards to the issue and how to solve it. Take good notes and ask questions. Ask your teacher where they get their information from in order to start building your own sources. 
  3. Find one or two good books on the subject of your technological device. There are endless books about X, Y and Z. Check Amazon to see what the pros and cons are of the book your looking at before investing. TIP: I recommend “The Missing Manual” series of books by O’Reilly (David Pogue). They have a book for almost everything and regularly update it.
  4. Schedule time to learn about your device, explore the features, and become an efficient user of your technology. 
  5. Don’t be afraid of it. Overcome the fear by learning. We tend to fear what we do not understand. Do not fall into the trap of “it can’t happen to me.” I know plenty of computer users that never backed up their data, fell victim to malware, or had their data hacked because they thought it could never happen to them. 
The next steps are geared towards making sure that the software behind your devices is up-to-date. Both Apple and Microsoft operating systems are updated on a regular basis, especially when a prominent security threat has been detected or reported. In fact, it becomes even more important to get your computer updated in this last case because it then becomes a publicized security threat.

Keeping up is NOT hard to do:
  1. Both Mac and Windows operating systems have a software update function that can be set to automatically download and install updates, notify you of updates, or both. You minimize your security risk by keeping your software up-to-date. These updates also usually contain bug fixes for your software.
  2. It is easy to forget, but 3rd Party apps also need updated. Your web browser uses Java and Flash Player. You view PDF files with Adobe Reader software. You might be using Firefox as your main web browser. All of these 3rd party applications get updated on a regular basis to fix security issues and add new features. The makers of each application are the best sources to get these updates, but you should also be able to use their built-in update function or automatic updates function mentioned earlier as well).
  3. Make sure you have your firewall turned ON and that you update your Antivirus software definitions on a daily basis. Your AV software will also have an automatic update setting.
  4. Make Backups of your data (or at least your most important documents, like your manuscripts). There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who back up their data, and those who will.
  5. Passwords: do not use the same password for everything, password-protect your laptop if you travel, and be sure your in-house wifi network is password protected (including the wireless unit itself).
Taken collectively, this list can help keep your computers secure, save you the costly time and money needed for repairs, and keep you writing by avoiding the downtimes resulting from issues. I recommend that you keep a notebook to jot down notes about your tech. Keep a checklist to help you stay focused and organized to keep your use of time efficient. Always know where, when, and who to ask for help.


  1. For the record, I own (or have owned) these Apple products: 2 different iMac desktop computers, a PowerBook G4 laptop, 3 different MacBook Pro laptops, 2 different 3GS iPhones, an Airport Extreme Base Station, an iPod Nano, and an iPod Shuffle and a VERY long time ago a Macintosh Performa SE.
    That said, I am always open to helping any of our members with Apple product questions...

  2. You are so right. I have lost time in my own writing when tech go bad. A little prevention on my part would have saved me the lost time and cost of repair for my computer.