Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Secure Writer: Safe Computer Practices

You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day …Psalm 91:5 (ESV)
Keep Your Computer Safe

The security log on my router listed a “ping of death” dated two days before. Now, I knew the router was the gizmo that lets me access the Internet on my computer without a wire, but I had no idea what a “ping of death” was. With that name, I knew it couldn’t be anything good, especially since we’d gotten a letter saying our state department of revenue had been hacked and our personal information was one of the thousands compromised.

After doing a little bit of research, I found out that someone was trying to hack my computer, but the firewall had stopped him just like an invisible fortress around my router. I reported the attack to our local Internet provider so they could investigate, but after upgrading the security features on my computer, I rested, somewhat uneasily, in the knowledge that I’d done all I could.

What can you do to keep your manuscript secure? The following are a few things that I've done. If my suggestions are nothing new, just consider them reminders.

Make sure all your software is up-to-date. Whether you use a desktop, laptop, tablet, Mac, or PC, you should make the effort to find out how to update your software. Consult your computer or software home page for more information.

Backup your work.
The best way to do this is by using a off-site program like DropBox, Google Docs or the Cloud. Most of these work by downloading a program to your computer, then when you save your document, it goes directly to that file. Bonus: you can access it anywhere. So if you go to a conference and need to change your proposal, you can open it from the hotel computer, make the changes and print away.

Another alternative is an external hard drive. This is a small box that connects to your computer with a cord or through your router. Depending on the program, you can set it to work on a schedule or only when you connect.

Thumb drives, memory sticks or USB flash drives now come with enough memory to back up your entire computer. If you do use these, be sure to set alerts to remind you to save your work-in-progress. There's nothing worse than the blue screen of death after you've worked all day on a manuscript.

The least expensive (and also least secure) way to backup your manuscript is by emailing a copy to yourself daily. However, the good news is that by doing this you have a record of work if there's ever a question of ownership when if you're audited. Those emails (be sure to set keywords or labels on those emails) will prove that you do consider your writing a business because you have devoted hours of time to your work.

The very best thing to do is a combination of all of the above. Do I sound paranoid? Maybe a little, but I've had computer crashes before where I relied on only one method and still lost work. I'd rather not take a chance.

Security Software
I don't want to start a conversation of Mac vs. PC, but even if you don't have anti-virus or security software, you need to have a firewall in place. Do some research on your computer model or contact your Internet service provider (ISP) for more information and instructions. (Sorry, but it depends on your brand of computer and ISP.)

Are you overwhelmed? I am, too. It's so much to learn, isn't it? But here's the good news: the psalmist was secure in the knowledge that Lord would protect us. In Psalm 91, he says that the Lord will cover us with his wings and command His angels to keep us safe. We never need to worry about denial of service from our Heavenly Father. He will always be there for us.

Just like my router’s firewall, our God protects us from attack. How many times have we been in dire situations and never even known it? Only the Lord knows why there is evil in this world, but He does assure us that we never need to fear it. He will always be with us.

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If you have any other suggestions, please leave a comment. I'd love all the help I can get!
About the Author
Angela E. Arndt
Angie Arndt was a corporate trainer before health issues sidelined her. These days she’s active in her local church, ACFW, MBT and Mesu's BFFs. She’s a team member of Seriously Write and writes every Wednesday on her personal blog, Joy on the Back Roads.

Angie is represented by Joyce Hart of Hartline Literary Agency. She’s currently working on a series of novels set in small Southern towns. She and her husband live in the middle of a big wood outside a small town in South Carolina. They have three large dogs -- well, two large dogs and a very small poodle who thinks he's a large dog.


  1. Thanks for those reminders, Angie. My husband is great at keeping up the security for our computers. I use a flash drive at the end of the day, but I've also used the email method. I have Scrivener, and the way I understand it, that backs up your work, too. Right?

  2. Oh my. AWESOME post, Angie. You're so good with computers! I appreciate this info.

    I save my ms's to a flash drive (NOT my hard drive) and change the file name every 10k words. But, occasionally, I have forgotten to take my flash drive with me on trips, so the off-site option sounds like something I should look into. Thanks so much, Angie!!

    1. Why do you change the file name, Dora?

    2. Oh, thank you so much! So glad to help.

      Yes, I love those new mega-ultra memory flash drives. They're great. I bought an external hard drive and it came with a 16 GB stick (my computer just has 4 GB of memory).

      Great question, Sandy! I add the date to the end of my file name each day. What do you do, Dora?

    3. Ex: Manuscript Rori's Healing to 10k, then when I reach that milestone, I save it as Manuscript Rori's Healing to 20k, and so on every 10k words. Then, I also back my entire flash drive up to another one every week. That way, if a file ever gets damaged, or I decide I liked a prior version of a particular scene, I could always go back and find it. I don't back up to my hard drive because it crashed once.

      But, I admit that Angie's suggestion for an off-site program sounds like a dream!

    4. Great idea, Dora, plus that saves up your hard drive to run your programs. I like that a lot.

      With Dropbox, you get up to 2GB of free storage and it's got pretty tight encryption, so it's safe. Once you download it, it's just another file site in your Save As ... command. Sweet!

    5. Okay, got it, Dora. I do have a second flash drive that I keep intending to back every completed manuscript up to and place in the bank. I haven't done it yet. My laptop is old enough that I really need to be careful.

  3. I am a big fan of Carbonite, but it doesn't save my MS every time hit save. It is more like hourly. That said, I also email my MS to myself every so often. Seems a wee bit easier than opening an account for the cloud. Great article, Angie. Full of great tips.

    1. Both are good tips, Heather! I saw that Carbonite has a free trial period, too, so that's nice to compare it to others. Automatic backup is a good thing, especially when you're in the middle of a scene and don't think to stop and save.

      Great idea to email, too -- just in case.

      Glad to help and thank you for your tips, Heather. :)

  4. hi Angie, what great reminders. Whew, Dropbox is my total friend. And I do have the external and lots of selfie-emails. And I have Word save everything every sixty seconds. I have truly learned the hard way. Hugs to you for another great post, xo

  5. I know what you mean. Ever since my computer crashed and I lost about half of my work (and worked like crazy to get the rest back), I do all of the above -- just in case. It makes me feel a whole lot better. ;)

    Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment, Tanya. It's always great to hear from you!

  6. I probably overkill on backups, but I've lost hours of work in the past.

    So, I keep copies of everything on my desktop and laptop. I store most things in free Dropbox (except photos because of the amount of space they take up.) Whatever is in there is easily accessible with a click. Then I also pay to have "everything" automatically backed up twice a day to Mozy (an off-site option) in case the house burns down, we have an earthquake and the house collapses, all the computers are stolen, etc., etc. ;-)

    I use the paid version of Avast for security.

    1. Dawn,

      Those sound like great ideas. I like the idea of using Dropbox for documents only and the Mozy for the rest. When I used Mozy, you had to request the backup file if you needed it.

      Hubby uses Avast on his work computer and likes it. I'll have to check that out, too. :) Thanks, Dawn!

  7. Sandra,
    I use Scrivener and found it only backs up to your computer. My computer was stolen. Fortunately, I went right to the apple store and they put a lock all the information. I had forgotten to do a back up on my external drive for a whole week, had to be this particular week of course. Everything I had done that week on Scrivener was gone. I contacted the company and well, there was nothing that could be done. Thank God it was only a week of work.

    Thank you, Angie
    Great post!!!!

    1. Mary,

      Yes, Scrivener is great for automatic saves, but it only saves to your computer's hard drive. It's always good to have a way to save your work away from your house -- as Dawn reminded us -- in case of fire, earthquake, and even theft.

      I'm so sorry that happened to you. I'm sure that the trauma you felt was not limited to the loss of your work. Yes, so thankful it was only a week. Praying for your comfort and that you will feel secure again.

      You're welcome! I hope you can find something in some of the things we've mentioned that will help.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment! :)

    2. Thank you for clarifying that, Mary. I was mistaken. Guess it's back to the drawing board...or maybe Dropbox. I hope your work never disappears again! Now I'm off to back up today's work. :)

    3. Sorry, Sandy! I missed your very first comment. Yikes! (But good idea that you're going back to the Dropbox instead of the drawing board. ;)

      Thanks for answering, Mary!


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