Safety For Writers Part 2: Internet Safety

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Last week, I discussed basic internet safety for writers, and this week, I’m going to go a little further into the subject with more tips to help you protect your business and your clients from theft. But before I go on, I need to announce that I am not affiliated with the products and services mentioned in this post. So use them, or don’t use them, I don’t care.

Resetting Your Device

If your device is older or just not working efficiently, then most tech experts recommend resetting the device to the factory default. However, that’s not the only reason to reset a device, if you suspect that your computer or phone has been hacked, you may want to completely reset it to clear any malicious software. I started doing this years ago, and it is rather annoying, because it takes hours but if you value privacy, it’s a necessary step. According to tech guru and Youtuber Rob Braxman, “computers aren’t permanent” and he’s right, we have to change our mindset and go the extra mile if we want to protect our privacy and the privacy of our clients.

Wi-Fi Dangers  

Wi-Fi is a blessing because it makes communication effortless and convenient, however, it can also be a point of entry for hackers. Most home devices are hacked through routers with passwords that are either weak or nonexistent. Also many people working from home share a Wi-Fi connection with family members. If your router is capable, I would recommend trying to create a separate Wi-Fi network for your business devices and don’t mix it up with any personal network. Also, make sure this business network has a strong password that is changed frequently.   

Another tip to protect your online communication is to use a virtual private network or VPN. This type of service encrypts your connection and gives you some protection from prying eyes. VPNs are normally used by people using public Wi-Fi networks in cafes, libraries, or airports and are effective if used correctly. Today, most companies that have employees working from home are insisting they use VPNs. However not all VPNs are created equal, some are free and share your data, while some are just plain slow. It would be wise to learn the ins and outs of VPNs before putting any money down on a service.    

The ideal solution for most business owners would be to use a VPN router which will encrypt your data without the need to remember activating an app. They are a bit more expensive but worth the investment if you work from home and do business online.  However, if you’re going to do this please make sure that you understand how to properly set one up because the NSA has sent out a warning this month about the potential vulnerability of VPNs that are not set up properly.

Browser Danger  

One simple way to protect yourself from prying eyes is to make sure you use a secure browser. Your browser is constantly leaking data such as passwords, email addresses, and possibly even your I.P. address which is why you should never allow your browser to memorize your passwords or login info. Hackers can easily access this info because most browsers don’t encrypt the data.         

Chrome, Edge, and Firefox are the most popular browsers around but they’re not all the same. Chrome and Edge, for example, are both fast and easy to use but not necessarily private. Firefox, on the other hand, gives you some privacy but you have to know how to use the settings and install the right apps to keep people out. Below I list some of the more popular secure browsers:   

⦁ Tor   

⦁ Firefox  

⦁ Brave  

Branding Blindness   

Did you know there’s a prevailing myth that Apple products are safer than Microsoft and Android devices? This of course is false. The reality is Apple products are less likely than others to be hacked because they have a smaller share of the market. Microsoft’s Windows operating system runs on 80% of the world’s PCs. The same goes for Android phones which run on 75% of smartphones. They’re just bigger targets, and no less safe than Apple.    

Still not convinced? In 2013, Apple revealed a new biometric sign in option where users could simply use their fingerprint to log into their iPhone 5s device. Within 48 hours, hackers were able to break into those devices. So much for safety, huh? According to security experts, biometrics are actually worse than passwords because if your device is ever compromised, you can always change a password but you can’t change your face or fingerprints.    

So What Do We Do To Protect Ourselves?     

If you want to prevent a hacker or thief from taking over your device or accessing your online accounts, you do have options. There are encrypted, hardware devices that can be plugged into your computer or phone that offer 2-factor authentication or 2FA. Often called security keys, these products prevent most unauthorized users from gaining access to your devices and online accounts since they are a physical object rather than a traditional phone number or email address which is normally used for two-factor authentication. So if an unauthorized person tries to log into your device or online account even if they have the correct password, they won’t be allowed access, because they still need the physical key.          

Listed below are just a few popular options:         

⦁ YubiKey   

⦁ NitroKey   

⦁ TitanKey    

Stop Syncing Your Devices    

I know this isn’t going to be very unpopular but syncing your devices can make you vulnerable in the event you are hacked or your device is stolen. I understand the love of convenience but if you have a business where your or your client’s data needs protection then syncing isn’t the way to go unless, it’s encrypted.     

Prepare to be Hacked   

Recently, I purchased a computer that runs on Windows 10S and even though they claim to have enhanced security (try not to laugh), they still advise users to store files on their cloud service OneDrive. In fact, most paid anti-virus software also offer cloud storage (for a price) just in case your device is ever compromised. They understand nothing is 100% effective and having a backup plan makes you less likely to suffer any significant losses after a security breach.   

Popular cloud services include:

  • Dropbox
  • GoogleDrive
  • Apple iCloud Drive
  • Amazon Drive

However, the best way to secure your business files is to save them offline to an external hard drive or server that is encrypted or password protected.              


It’s no secret that privacy is a thing of the past for most people. Emails, social media, as well as phone calls, are all being monitored and if your work depends on anonymity, then you will need private ways to communicate. Say you’re a writer who interviews government officials, whistle-blowers, or even criminals, then you need to keep prying eyes away from your work. There are a few apps that offer private, encrypted email services as well as messaging apps and you should definitely know about them.            

Sadly, these email services need to be used between other users for the messages to be 100% encrypted. So if you’re sending your email from an encrypted service like ProtonMail to an Outlook recipient, the email won’t be encrypted let alone private. However, if you’re paranoid or you’re interviewing someone who is, then these services are a Godsend. Here are just a few well-known ones, keep in mind these are all paid services:        

⦁ ProtonMail   

⦁ Tutanota    

⦁ CounterMail   

If you are live messaging a subject or recording footage, you might need something more than encrypted email. Here’s where encrypted messaging apps come to the rescue. Recently, in the U.S., journalists, and protestors have been using these apps to record the Black Lives Matter protests as well instances of police brutality. There is a concern that phones will be taken by law enforcement who may try to either access or delete the content.    

What makes these apps different than typical social media apps is they don’t save your data on their servers so even if someone sues you or law enforcement tries to obtain the data directly from the company, they won’t get anything that identifies you. Here are some of the more popular ones:   

⦁ Signal    

⦁ Briar   

⦁ Matrix   

I didn’t include the popular apps WhatsApp (owned by Facebook), or Snapchat, even though they offer encryption and private messaging because of the numerous scandals surrounding these two companies.   

In Closing…  

I didn’t write this post to alarm anyone, I wrote it to educate writers on how to protect themselves, and their businesses from those wishing to do harm. We’re living in a world that is quickly changing and the old tips and tricks just don’t work anymore. I hope you learned something new and if you have a tip to share then let me know in the comments section. 

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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.