During my promo for my prehistoric fiction, Laws of Nature, one of my wonderful hosts posted this article about how to protect your privacy as a writers with easy, mostly-free steps. I also posted a similar version directed at teachers on my education blog. In case you missed it:
If we humans aren’t giving away our personal information (as we do on FB, Tiktok, Instagram, Twitter and every other social media outlet), we’re having it stolen and sold without our permission. This is a bigger deal for writers than most because:
- we have copyrighted files that provide us an income.
- we provide access to our income streams on our digital devices. If we’re hacked, the bad guy can shut us out of those and divert the monies from them to himself.
Most of us have found our books being given away or sold on nefarious platforms that obtained them illegally and are now profiting from our labor. Because of this, I spend more time than most Normal People trying to secure my online environment.
Here are six easy steps everyone should implement. To keep this article as short as possible, I don’t go into a lot of detail, simply an explanation of what the security feature is, why I use it, and what’s involved initiating it on your device:
Cover your webcam
Any moderately-talented hacker can access your computer’s webcam and microphone remotely. Lots of movies spotlight this invasion of privacy because it has been normalized as unstoppable. You may not be able to prevent it from every happening but you can slow the thieves down by covering your webcam, either with a sock or a post-in note. If your digital device of choice is a laptop, keep it closed when not in use. Don’t leave it sitting open with a view of your bedroom, your face, a reflection of your keystrokes in your glasses and an active mic.
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) hides your location (your IP address) from digital thieves by bouncing it around to other parts of the world. For me, this week, it’s Australia. Last week, it was Britain. These involve a monthly charge, probably a download, and minimal setup. VPNs can be used on phones, desktops, laptops, iPads, and more.
The setup for my chosen VPN (Surfshark) wasn’t difficult but it is a bit quirky when compared to my norm so it takes some getting used to (for example, Outlook won’t send email through a VPN so I have to turn it off first).
Signal, considered the gold standard of communication privacy. is a free messaging/phone app that collects no personal data and works on most digital devices. Its end-to-end encryption means no one sees your messages except who you choose, not even Signal. If you read spy novels, they often use Signal for their communication. If you currently use a messaging app (iPhone’s native iMessage app or Facebook’s Messenger), stop doing that. Use Signal instead.
To start, I created an account with my phone number and downloaded the app to my smartphone and my desktop. Then, I started texting folks and calling my son in Japan–for free (both voice and video).
DuckDuckGo is a powerful ad-free internet search engine that collects no personal data on you, which means it sells nothing. Most of us have experienced doing a Google search on a private health issue and then been barraged with ads about that problem. If you ‘Ducked’ it (instead of Googled it), that flood of ads won’t come from your browser (but still can come from your health provider).
DDG is a downloadable app for phones and an extension on desktops.
Hotspot from your phone
A smartphone’s native hotspot allows you to link to the internet through your personal internet account rather than the free WiFi provided in coffee shops, restaurants, hotels, and everywhere else. Why do that? Because your phone is encrypted but free WiFi’s aren’t. That means anyone can spy on you through them. Here’s a two-minute video showing how simple it is:
My iPhone has a native hotspot that my iPad can easily connect to. I can allow others to use it via a code. I don’t share it much because it runs off of the data in my Cox internet account. BTW, if you are overseas where you can’t access mobile data, if you have a VPN, that will encrypt your data and make surfing safe.
2-step authentication is exactly what it says. To access your account, you not only enter a password but also complete a second completely separate step. A code sent to your messaging app (or email) or a code from an Authenticator app on your phone are popular. The account wants you to prove you are the legitimate owner of the login by contacting you via another digital device only the owner would have.
If this sounds onerous, it’s worse to have your identity highjacked or your online access corrupted. When I had my laptop stolen in South Korea, I knew anything important would be impossible for them to access because I’d be alerted on my phone. Which I was, a few times.
More privacy steps: Sign up for an identity protection program to monitor the internet for fraud involving you (I use Identity Guard) and an encrypted email program like ProtonMail (I know, you love your free Gmail but it is one of the worst offenders in the area of privacy).
What do you use to protect your online privacy? I love simple solutions that are affordable, simple, and effective.
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular prehistoric fiction saga, Man vs. Nature which explores seminal events in man’s evolution one trilogy at a time. She is also the author of the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers and Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. Her non-fiction includes over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, reviews as an Amazon Vine Voice, a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Natural Selection Winter 2022.