Six Ways To Stay Safe Online

Skeleton Keys: A Horror Story That Will Scare All Writers

Are you worried about safeguarding your work online? In this post, we look at six ways for writers to stay safe online.

Guest Post

When I’m not busy working on magazine articles, blog posts or attempts at world domination, I write horror from behind a desk in the middle of the mountains. Horror which involves murder most foul – sometimes in cold blood, sometimes more of a warm, arterial spouting – cannibalism at the drive-in, creatures that hide and watch young lovers in the dark… It all gets your heart beating a little faster, doesn’t it?

But here’s a real scary story: Nothing beats the horror of losing your work. Manuscripts in progress, notes, contacts…All of it could be gone in an instant.

Security for Writers

PC security is often overlooked, but an essential part of being a writer in modern times. Disaster has struck me more than once: The laptop has died right on deadline, I’ve accidentally tossed a flash drive with hours of precious work into a river and I’ve gotten mugged for a cell phone – luckily not all on the same day.

Here’s how to make sure you’re prepared:

Knowledge is power

“The best way to protect yourself is to know what is going on with your PC,” says Daniel Malan, a Senior Technician and Web Developer from Johannesburg.  You don’t have to be an IT genius, either. “Just be aware of what’s happening on it and have some general knowledge of how it operates.”

The first step is to install the latest version of a reputable antivirus program, such as Avast! or Kaspersky, to make sure you’re protected against any malicious software. “An antivirus program works by systematically scanning and hash-checking data, applications, links, websites and other miscellaneous files to see if they have potential harmful coding built into them.”

Along with an antivirus, Malan also recommends installing software like SpyBot or MalwareBytes to protect against malware.

Open Sesame

If your password is your favourite brand of rolling tobacco followed by your birth date, your dog’s name, the same password for everything or pasted on the fridge, change it. Locking the front door means nothing if you leave the back wide open.

Malan recommends using a combination of special characters (@, #, $, etc.), upper and lower case letters and numbers to confuse potential hackers. The safest passwords are hard to guess, random and should be changed on a regular basis.

Keep in mind that answers to security questions can be guessed by anyone with enough spare time. Does Facebook know your mother’s maiden name? Are you your favourite author?

Get off my cloud

Cloud storage saves your information in an encrypted online format (i.e. “on the cloud”), where you can access it from anywhere. I’ve found this handy for articles-in-progress, sharing files with clients back and forth and working on the move. Both Google Drive and Dropbox are possible options, with a certain amount of storage space offered to users for free. Any additional space (>15GB on Google Drive) can then be purchased for a fee.

“Personal photos and documents can easily be handled by a cloud service provider,” says Malan. But how reliable are they? “Very,” he says. “Especially because the providers can be held responsible for lost data.”

For those who still prefer their info offline, files can be saved on an external hard drive. Wi-Fi drives are also available, backing up your Wi-Fi capable devices the moment you are within range.

Six Ways To Stay Safe Online

Six Ways For Writers To Stay Safe Online

  1. Avoid pop-ups and banner ads – you haven’t won anything, those pills won’t work and none of those women are waiting for you in your area.
  2. Keep an eye on what’s running in your system and browser’s background. Pressing CTRL + ALT + DEL on Windows will bring up Task Manager. Don’t recognize it? Head to your nearest search engine and check it out.
  3. Don’t click on suspicious e-mail links and avoid unrecognized attachments. This includes e-mails that look like they’re from the bank, mysterious competition wins and the old favourite relative you can’t remember died.
  4. Clean up your PC. Like with anything else, systems get clogged up over time. Get rid of software you don’t use and clear your browser history (cough…). CCleaner comes recommended.
  5. Keep personal information personal.
  6. Don’t take a rock to a gunfight. Use the latest versions of software – especially an antivirus, which has to be updated regularly.

As a last piece of advice, Malan adds a bit of tech-Zen: “When in doubt, Google.”

Guest post by Alex J Coyne. Alex is a South African author, freelance journalist and language practitioner. His work has appeared on blogs and in national and international publications. He can be found at his blog

Posted on: 4th December 2015

0 thoughts on “Skeleton Keys: A Horror Story That Will Scare All Writers”

  1. GREAT ADVICE!!! i tend to err on the side of caution—’cause i’ve lost stuff before! i had a tidbit to add to your list: don’t click on stuff when you’re extremely tired or have to use the loo really badly….. clouds your best judgment!! (and yes, i’ve done this)

  2. Robin E. – Glad it helps! Not clicking on things when tired is noted; ending an e-mail to an editor with “kind retards” won’t go well! Ironically, studies have shown that a full bladder can increase on-the-spot thinking…

    Max B. – But against what, I wonder?

  3. Epic advice, Alex! Simple, but effective! One another writer’s dread is being his work plagiarized by someone. Fortunately, there is special plagiarism detection software as Unplag or iThenticate that help you to protect your original work. Sad but true that currently many law suits with this issue appeared.

  4. Thank you for the kind words and suggestions, Basil! There’s also CopyScape (to see if you’re accidentally plagiarizing someone else – i.e. Helen Keller and “The Frost King”)…