Safety For Writers Part 1: Online Security

Image via Pixabay

I wrote this article because of the uptick in hackings targeting small and medium-sized businesses. Since many countries have entered their respective COVID-19 quarantines, it’s made things worse because most people are either continuing their education or working on the same networks that aren’t well protected. Most home networks are designed with convenience and not safety in mind which can open the door to malware, scams and identity theft.

It’s no secret that we are in a worldwide recession which has thieves and con artists coming out of the woodwork making life difficult. Sadly, this doesn’t look like it’s going to be a short-term event either. In fact, the NSA, in a series of public reports, warned U.S. business owners to be vigilant about hackers targeting certain software systems. This is unusual for them and it has me rethinking how I secure my data. 

Now before I go on, I want to inform you that I am in no way affiliated with any of the products or services I mention in this post.      

The Elephant In The Room  

Ask any security expert and they’ll tell you that people are their own worst enemy when it comes to online safety. They use terrible passwords, or worse, they just stick to factory default ones. So, what kind of password should we be using? Well, according to former NSA contractor and whistle-blower Edward Snowden, we should be using passphrases not passwords. His example of a good passphrase was: MargaretThatcherIs110%Hot. Now I won’t judge his taste in women but his passphrase is pretty solid, it has numbers, upper- and lower-case letters, and even includes a symbol so this isn’t going to be easy to guess.    

Poison All Unnecessary Data   

Do you find it absurd how much information sites like Google and Microsoft want from users? When a user creates an account, they ask for your gender, age, and even your location. They claim it helps them personalize your experience when using their services but the fact is, they use this information to sell to 3rd parties. My one tip is to never give your real name or age, the only thing they need to know is that you’re an adult and won’t use their services illegally. Also, turn off all GEO tracking and ad customization, these things can lead to your personal information being exposed.  And if you’re using Google services be sure to delete not only the cookies on your Chrome browser frequently, but your search history as well.  

Are Your Devices Unsafe?  

Did you know that most software companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Google stop servicing their products after a specific number of years? They do this because they can’t afford to keep updating and patching older software however, users are often unaware of this. That means you could be using an unsafe phone or computer which could be vulnerable to hacking. So be sure to check that your devices have the latest software to keep them running safely. If your device is obsolete and not being serviced anymore then, you’re going to have to upgrade to a new one.      

Antivirus Software       

When I first started using the internet years ago, security experts scoffed at the idea of purchasing antivirus software. They reasoned, the one provided by Windows or Apple were sufficient enough. However now, since most home business owners share an internet connection with family members, they are changing their tune. Before experts figured if users were responsible, then there would be no need for extra protection. But the reality is children and teens are often not responsible. If they access a shady website in order to download music or look at something naughty, your business will be affected if they inadvertently install malware. And no, Windows and Apple products aren’t the best when it comes to protection, don’t believe me? Check out this Youtube video by PC Security where they test Windows Defender against several different types of ransomware. To make a long story short, it inspired me to upgrade the software on all of my devices.

The most popular antivirus software on the market today are:

  • Kaspersky
  • Bitdefender
  • Norton

Email Hacking 

Recently, I revealed that my email had been hacked twice in the past 15 years and the woman that I was speaking to exclaimed, “Oh, I’ve never been hacked!” which is unbelievable. In fact, it’s a flat out lie, everyone and their mother has been hacked, every social media site, major retailer, banks, and even governments have been hacked. The media often calls them data breaches and that means if you’re employed or do business with any of these types of institutions then you’ve been hacked.   

However, most people associate hacking with viruses and trolling on their personal devices. But the word hacking just means to compromise a device to steal data, corrupt files or commandeer a device. Sadly, you can’t control how companies and governments protect your data which will always make you vulnerable and that’s why you have to be vigilant.        

If you want to know if your email account has been compromised, just head over to: https://haveibeenpwned.com/ and type in all of your email addresses.  

Also, on that same site, you can check to see if your passwords have been stolen. It’s worth finding out.     

What To Do If Your Email Address Has Been Hacked?  

The best thing you can do after you’ve been hacked is to get a new email address. I know the experts say that you only need to change your password which is correct, you should boot out the person and regain control of the account. However, you have to think about the long-term consequences, once your email address is on the dark web, it will be sold to shady marketers (a.k.a. spammers) and other hackers who may try to break into your account again. If this is a business account or official channel of communication, then it’s best to start over.   

That’s because a hacker may use your account or even spoof it to send spam or malware which will get your email address reported and blocked. This is why some people find their emails being sent directly to the spam folder because their email address has been officially blacklisted.

In Closing… 

Before you unplug your modem and swear off the internet, just know there are steps you can take to prevent much of the scenarios I’ve discussed. The odds are in your favor if you are educated and are willing to put in the effort.

I hope you learned something new and if you have a tip to share then let me know in the comments section.  Next week, I move on to part two which involves protecting your network and communicating privately online.

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

The post The Art Of Gary Choo appeared first on Halcyon Realms – Art Book Reviews – Anime, Manga, Film, Photography.

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