(There are some comments on the picture following the regular post.)
A big part of writing involves actually causing words to appear on paper, or a screen. There are many ways to accomplish that task, but many people use a computer. Some of you use an Apple product, and maybe you think that this post doesn’t apply to you. The truth is, any computer is subject to being hacked, and as Apple products have gained popularity, there are more and more bits of Apple malware out there. You, the Apple user, can protect yourself the same way a Windows user can protect themselves. So, don’t stop reading here, because you may regret it later.
I am moved to write this about the computer tool by the recent wave of Ransom Ware, that encrypts all of your files and says it will give you a key to unencrypt them after you pay a ransom. That’s bad, but there have been, and will be, many other bits of malicious code circulating. Just as washing your hands will keep a biological virus from infecting you, there are things you can to that will keep digital viruses out of your devices. So, rather than discover that your last three years work on that epic novel have been taken from you forever, do the following.
First, back up every bit of your project to an external hard drive, or to one of the many cloud storage services that are available. You can get enough space to store all of the files for a novel for the amazingly low price of absolutely free! That’s right: protection from losing your precious work and it really will cost you nothing! Some places offering free cloud* storage include, but aren’t limited to, Google, Microsoft, Verizon (and other phone companies.) Check around and you’ll find others. If you have too many files, well, get several free storage spots and, as they say in England, Bob’s Your Uncle!
Second, and this is especially true for Windows users, let Microsoft (or Android or whatever) update your computer any time it wants to! (Apple does this automatically, but it never tells you about it.) You can go into your settings and tell your computer to only install the updates, which frequently require a restart, at some time when you’re not going to be using the machine, even to not do so if you are using the machine, but let the updates happen! This is not a case of Microsoft forcing things down your throat, it is a case of preventing (virtually completely) vicious programs from ruining your computer and destroying your book. For example, the recent Ransomware attack was based on a leak of NSA materials that listed weaknesses found in various computer systems. Microsoft patched the weakness allowing that Ransomware to run as soon as they found out about it, as they do for all malware, so if you have been allowing Microsoft to update your system automatically, the people collecting that ransom will get nothing from you. For many, Windows greatest strength is its versatility: you can set it up to do or not do pretty much whatever you wish, including to not update itself. But, don’t not update regularly. Tell your computer to update automatically, at some time when you won’t be using it, and save your work every time you log off. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did! Oh, yes, and if you’re using Windows XP, just stop it! You’ll be surprised how cheaply you can get a laptop good enough to use for writing these days. A few hundred bucks, with Windows installed. (The trouble is that XP no longer updates automatically. Convenient, maybe, but dangerous.)
And third, don’t be a schmuck! Don’t click on, or even preview, every email you receive. That’s how these bits of malware get onto your computer: they are hidden in emails that may even look like they’re from somebody you know! If you have no idea why your friend would send you an email with that subject, contact them separately and ask them about it. Chances are, you will discover that they know nothing about it. If you want, you can make a folder for “suspicious emails” and put the ones you can’t identify in that folder until you check it out. And, while I’m at it, never connect to a website you normally deal with from an email. Go there your normal way, and determine if whatever the email is talking about is real or not.
After all, knowing how to write is of little help when your files disappear forever.
- “Cloud” is a marketing term for using remote computers for file storage, or even to run programs. It isn’t new, but as storage got cheaper, the marketeers were called in, and “cloud” is the name they came up with. Using computers remotely is, in fact, the entire purpose of the Internet, so “the cloud” is just one way of doing that. It is secure; at least, a lot more secure than that laptop or phone you take with you everywhere and connect to public wireless networks!
** The British Library has a Treasures Room, free to the public, which contains, amongst other things, a copy of the Magna Carta, a First Edition of Shakespeare poetry, the only extant copy of the original Beowulf, and so much more that it fairly made my head spin. If you like books, and I’m guessing you do or you wouldn’t be here, you should visit this library, and soon. Maybe repeatedly. You won’t regret the trip!