Site icon Barb Sotiropoulos

5 Ways to Stay Safe Online

In the last decade our lives have become increasingly more digital. The pandemic alone forced many artists to reconfigure their in-person workshops and classes to social media and online platforms. In this rush to learn and become proficient in online-based technology, there’s an important fundamental that’s not always prioritized – cyber security. If not taken seriously, your accounts could be compromised and can cause significant damage to your reputation and your business. Don’t worry just yet though, there are a few simple steps you can take today to secure your accounts from potential hackers.

Disclaimer: I’m not a cyber security expert. The advice given in the post is based on advice I’ve learned from people who are experts and best practiced recommended by apps and online platforms to keep your accounts secure. Please consult a professional for further questions and information.

TURN ON TWO FACTOR AUTHENTICATION

I’m starting with this tip first because it’s easily the most important thing you can do today to secure your online and social accounts. If you aren’t familiar with what this is, it’s an extra layer of security that requires you to enter a one-time code in addition to your password when logging into your accounts. This code can be sent to you as a text through your phone, an authentication app, or in a email. Most apps or online accounts will have this feature available especially if you have credit card information stored. In many scenarios when you initially signup for your account you will be taken through the sign-up steps and they will ask you if you want to turn this feature on. You should ALWAYS turn this feature on. It may seem like an inconvenience to do this but you know what’s A LOT more inconvenient? Trying to get your account back if you’ve been hacked.

Once this feature is turned on and if you stay logged into your account, you won’t need to enter it again unless you log out or try to log in from another device or browser. This is important if for example you are logged into Instagram from your phone and someone in another country tries to log into your account from their device. You should not only get an email saying that someone tried to access your account but if you also have a code that is sent to your phone, they won’t be able to access your account without that.

Example of where to find your two-factor authentication settings on Instagram.

This is also why it’s important to make sure the email address associated with your account also has this turned on. Think of it like an additional key pad lock on top of the deadbolt on front door. You also have the option on most accounts to download a set of codes to keep somewhere safe incase you lose access to your account. Typically when a hacker takes over your account, they will immediately change the email address, password and phone number associated with the account so this is an important piece of information to have.

CREATE STRONG COMPLICATED PASSWORDS

You’ve likely heard or seen this before but there’s a reason for it. If your password is your dog’s name, all someone has to do is a bit of social media research to find that out. I use a password management program that allows me to store and create complicated password for all of my accounts and I only have to remember one password to access all of them. These programs use the highest level of security and have browser and mobile integrations. They will also tell you if a website you have a password associated with has been compromised, identify which of your passwords are weak, have been reused or need to be updated. This also means you don’t have to write any of your passwords down. You just have to remember the one you use to access your password account. If there was a fire or your home was broken into, you don’t want all of your written down passwords either lost or compromised.

Some examples of these password programs are:
Dashlane
Lastpass
1Password

Most of these programs offer a free trail or low cost monthly or yearly fee. You may be questioning the cost but consider what the cost is if you don’t do what you can to secure your accounts. Hackers don’t always go after large accounts or high profile people. It’s not a matter of IF your account will be compromised it’s a matter of WHEN. Another consideration is this is helpful in the event of your passing to whomever resumes control of your estate to be able to close or access your accounts easily.

NEVER CLICK ON SUSPICIOUS LINKS IN EMAILS OR DIRECT MESSAGES

Hackers are becoming clever at finding ways to trick people into either giving up their information or click on links that will install spyware on their devices. You may have gotten a direct message on Facebook from an old college or school mate you haven’t spoken to in years with a short message asking you to watch a video or that they say a compromising photo of you. Those ones may seem a bit more obvious but people fall for them all the time. As an artist you need watch out for people sending you links to look at their artwork or something similar. If you think the person might be legitimate you could always try opening a new browser window and searching their name if they are trying to send you to their website for example.

If you’ve tried to comment on one of my blog posts in the past you will notice that it doesn’t publish immediately. That is because I have my comments set so that I have to approve all of them. While my spam filter is set pretty high for filtering comments, I also want to make sure that I can keep myself and anyone coming to blog safe by making sure the comments are appropriate and don’t contain nefarious links. Some of spam comments that get flagged even use full sentences and look innocent enough but inevitably always contain some sort of link or are off topic from the blog post itself.

DON’T RESPOND TO EMAILS THAT ARE TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE

I’m sure everyone dreams of being plucked from obscurity and showered with money for their amazing artwork, but let’s be real, the chances of that actually happening are really low. There’s a common email phishing scam that is sent to artists where a man will claim he saw his wife looking at your artwork and wanted to purchase one of your pieces for their anniversary or her birthday. They will often ask for a price list on your pieces, but don’t actually reference a specific piece. They usually will have a very English sounding name but the email will typically still have grammatical or spelling errors. Now, that said, some people do making typing errors on occasion… we’ve all been a victim of bad autocorrect. There is usually a too good to be true scenario happening though with the rest of the content of the email.

Sometimes you will also get commission inquiries of which some might be legitimate and some might not be. Never under any circumstances engage with a commission project where for whatever reason you are required to front any money on their behalf. Even if they promise to reimburse you or are sending you a cheque. It’s a good best practice when taking commissions to not take personal cheques. Cash or direct money transfers through either PayPal, Stripe or an equivalent provider are best because they require the other person to actually have the funds in their account when they send them.

KEEP YOUR SOFTWARE AND BROWSERS UPDATED

Google Chrome is one of the safest browsers to use because they are constantly updating the security. If you are currently using this browser you may have noticed that it will notify you in the top right hand corner of your browser window when you need to close and restart it for a security update. On a PC its a good idea to just completely close your browser windows when you are finished looking at something. On a Mac you have to make sure you actually quit the program as well because just closing the window doesn’t actually close the program entirely.

Making sure your computer operating system software is up to date is important as well. If you have the ability to turn on a firewall on your computer that is also a good idea. Companies release software and security updates for a reason. They are trying to do their part to help keep you safe but that only works if you actually install the updates. You can set your computer to automatically install security updates if you feel like you may be forgetful with doing this.

LEARN MORE

John Middick and I discussed this topic in more depth on Episode 339 of the podcast. Learn more by listening to the episode below. LISTEN HERE: https://sharpenedartist.com/podcast/339

The internet has brought us so many positive things in being able to connect with people around the world we would never otherwise had the chance to. Unfortunately, with that it makes it easier than before for others to steal your information, time and money. If you’ve made it this far without implementing these safety measures count yourself as lucky. If you are an artist who’s livelihood and reputation live online however, it is unwise to leave all of that in the hands of luck. If you choose to do one thing suggested in this article make it turning on your two-factor authentication settings whenever it’s available. It’s easy, it’s free and it just might save your accounts from being compromised.

Do you have an internet safety tip? Share with me in the comments!

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