Posts Tagged ‘david sheets’


GIF, JPEG, or PNG? Choose wisely

Taking Photos(Editor’s note: This post appears courtesy of Gateway Media Literacy Partners)

Seeing is believing, the saying goes. That phrase dates back to the 17th century, but it means more now than ever. Our image-driven culture places added value on what it can visualize at a glance versus what it can read. That’s why tweets are 35 percent more likely to be re-tweeted, Facebook posts are 85 percent more likely to be “liked,” and whole websites are 90 percent more memorable and clickable with meaningful images or graphics embedded in them.

Regardless, we tend to treat all visual content the same way no matter the source or purpose and have since the dawn of the browser-based Web 20 years ago. The result is an abundance of websites and social media loaded with images that appear blurry or ill-defined, that resolve too small or too large for the space allowed, or that hinder a browser’s ability to display a site quickly and effectively.

We never learned — or if we did, we keep forgetting — that digital image formats vary and each has a distinct, optimal purpose. Lacking an understanding of those purposes, we risk losing clicks, clients, and valuable attention.

So, resolve in 2015 to learn, remember, and properly use the three common image formats, denoted by their file extension names:

.GIF — It’s pronounced “jiff,” like the peanut butter, though some prefer “giff.” Either way, it stands for Graphics Interchange Format, and was developed by CompuServe in 1987 as a means of transferring space-hogging graphical files through slow connections such as. Animations, icons, line drawings, cartoons or any image with a limited color palette are better as GIFs because GIF permits certain colors to appear as transparencies instead of real pixels and can combine pixels of two colors into one to further reduce file size without diminishing image quality.

.JPEG (or .JPG) — This one, pronounced “jay-peg,” stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group, and as the name implies was developed chiefly for photographs. Created in 1986 by said group, JPEG is the standard file format programmed into most digital cameras and employs a complex algorithm to compress images for optimum Web display. Some image quality is lost during this compression; however, in order to simplify compression, JPEG robs from subtler tones the human eye has difficulty noticing yet preserves the more distinct differences between light and dark.

.PNG — Pronounced “ping,” the format with the full name Portable Graphics Network went to market in 1996 containing elements of both the .GIF and .JPEG formats. It was developed as an open-source substitute for .GIF and is optimal for working with complex graphical logos and large photographs that do not need much compression. However, PNG is relatively new and so its images may not display well or at all on older browsers.

Not all digital images are the same. Treating them as if they were leaves a bad impression with Web audiences. By being mindful of these formats and their principal purposes, you can rest assured that the first visual impression you make will be a good one.

Sony hack threatens freedom of speech

Sony Pictures Entertainment logoWhen employees of Sony Pictures Entertainment saw their computer screens go as black as their morning coffee in mid-keystroke last month, nobody imagined the impact would have global implications.

Yet, another darkness descended with the shutdown and may persist for months if the “Sony hack” as many are calling it turns into the cyberterror devastation the alleged hackers claim will come.

Even if nothing much else results, the Sony hack likely will change the way corporations handle digital data. Otherwise, our most basic freedom is at risk.

The latest clarion call to improve digital security came early on the Monday before Thanksgiving when Sony employees were shut out of their computer network without warning. The blackout lasted days. Important files either vanished or were inaccessible. Sony Pictures, the American subsidiary of media conglomerate Sony Corp., soon learned that hackers calling themselves Guardians of Peace had sifted through and copied vast volumes of employee records and company correspondence. The hackers published some of the emails as proof — emails that revealed privileged discussions and compromised relationships within the company.

The attack was tied to the planned wide release on Christmas Day of the feature film “The Interview,” a political farce depicting the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The hackers called it a form of terrorism and promised to retaliate against cinemas that showed the movie. Cinema owners everywhere cancelled showings, prompting Sony to pull the movie from distribution.

Hollywoodites and government howled at Sony’s decision, with a long line of celebrities stretching from George Clooney to President Barack Obama saying Sony risked undermining free speech and freedom of expression by giving in. But Sony Pictures Chairman and CEO Michael Lynton insisted he had no choice once the cinemas backed out. The company now says it will opt for other means of distribution and a limited release.

Perhaps a bigger concern to Lynton and Sony is the huge hole this hack punches into the company’s reputation. Tens of thousands of personnel records wound up in the hackers’ hands in November — and this just 10 months after another security breach by a different hacker compromised individual records belonging to almost 48,000 Sony website visitors in Germany. If Sony employees’ bank accounts, health records, and credit histories are compromised en masse, and Sony customers can blame their own financial woes on the company, the cumulative legal redress heaped on Sony could easily exceed the $44 million it cost to make “The Interview.”

So, two things now appear certain. First, the high-profile blowback from Sony’s security breach serves as incentive for corporations who say they’ll get around to improving cybersecurity but keep putting it off.

Second, Sony’s apparent capitulation to the Guardians of Peace moves cyberterror out front as a proven tool for controlling the media marketplace. Lynton insisted his company’s actions were defensible and blamed misinformation for fueling public outrage. Meanwhile, free-speech advocates filled the gap between Sony’s actions and Lynton’s logic with shrill outcry, or in some cases overt silence. that Sony will find almost impossible to overcome even after agreeing to a smaller distribution.

Hacking predates the Web, goes on everywhere, and is evolving. In the first two weeks of December alone, more than two dozen attacks considered to be on the level of cybercrime or espionage were recorded against major financial institutions, governments agencies, news organizations, sports teams, and universities. Each revealed nagging flaws in the way we store our digital data, however none received the media attention they deserved because they lacked the PR firepower of Hollywood’s glitterati.

Sony showed that media companies can be bullied into acting against the public’s best interests, that everyone from individuals on up to conglomerates needs to take better care of securing our digital data, and that our basic freedoms are doomed if we don’t.

Cuba opens its door to U.S. journalists, but be careful

Flag of CubaA landmark diplomatic agreement between the United States and Cuba also opens a door to American journalists who encountered obstacles in glimpsing inside the closeted island nation over the past 50 years.

The agreement, which President Barack Obama outlined in a televised statement Wednesday, among other things eases travel restrictions for 12 economic, legal and social purposes and includes freer journalistic activities. Stringent entrance restrictions for journalists have been in place since the United States ended diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 and embargoed trade in 1962.

The United Nations has condemned the embargo annually as inhumane since 1992. Cuba says the embargo has cost it more than $1 trillion in essential trade.

“We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests,” Obama said in the broadcast. “… These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.”

Journalists generally needed expressed permission from both the U.S. and Cuban governments and were advised to carry an approved or stamped media pass from their employer and a few copies of previous bylined work to demonstrate employment. Freelance journalists, meanwhile, were required to carry a signed letter from their hiring editor saying they were on assignment for a specific purpose.

It’s not known yet to what extent restrictions will change.

But even with the door opening from the U.S. side, American journalists likely will find attitudes slow to adjust in Cuba. The nonprofit Reporters Without Borders says journalists from other nations are still detained in that country. Others have been accused of terrorism or beaten.

Cuba is No. 171 out of 179 nations on RWB’s 2013 Press Freedom Index.

“Anyone trying to disseminate opinions critical of the regime continues to be exposed to harassment, threats and arbitrary arrest,” RWB says. Internet use is also still strictly controlled through the purchase of expensive permits, though that is supposed to change under the new agreement.

Central to the agreement announced Wednesday was the release of Alan Gross, a U.S. contractor arrested by the Cuban government in 2009 and sentenced in 2011 for traveling with telecommunications equipment and using a mobile phone in violation of that government’s regulations.

Stop ignoring Instagram

BarsChristmas arrived early for Instagram. The photo- and video-sharing service announced this week that it reached a major milestone: 300 million monthly active members.

Not quite the audience of Facebook (over 1.4 billion), or Twitter (500 million tweets daily), but enough that journalists really ought to pay it more attention.

They don’t, or many of them don’t anyway, because Instagram still strikes senior scribes as a young people’s playground decorated with abundant square-shaped images of provocative selfies, tilted shots of half-eaten meals, and too many — way too many — artfully cropped portraits of people’s feet. Moreover, square images are rather confining for news photographers who prefer to see the world through a 4:3 aspect ratio.

After breaking down that huge membership number into digestible bits, one can understand the bias. In 2013, Instagram’s own research showed that 80 percent of users were under age 24, and over half of that group had yet to finish college. Among all teens, 30 percent consider Instagram more important in their social media lives than Facebook or Twitter.

But social media platforms age like the people who use them and, one hopes, mature. Between June 2012 and June 2013, Instagram’s member base doubled despite near saturation of the youth market. Growth in urban areas outpaced that of suburban ones. And the increase in the number of users who make at least $50,000 annually exceeded the increase among those who didn’t.

Besides, 300 million is a very big number — big like an oversized sofa in an undersized apartment. And journalists who just figured out Facebook or who just joined Twitter and cringe at the idea of trying to bend their minds around yet another hulking piece of technology must understand this.

They need to get over it and focus on one important point: By being the social hub for such large number of people who journalists and media owners still struggle to reach, Instagram serves well as a site for tracking the trends, comparing the perspectives, and monitoring the moods of a valuable demographic.

So, try these tips for optimal use of Instagram:

Follow the hashtags — Like Twitter, Instagram makes use of hashtags (words or unspaced phrases with a # prefix) that turn simple terms into searchable metadata. Users can compile lists from tags such as #Ferguson and #Ebola to sift for relevant content. And like Twitter, hashtag results appear in real time, so the newest content appears in the stream first.

Depending on the frequency of posts, new content displaces old content quickly at the top of a feed, and Instagram’s search is not robust. For better searching, try using a service such as Gramfeed.

Explore communities — Large groups of Instagram users sharing similar interests often form communities around those interests, marked by single hashtags. Among the most popular communities are #ThingsOrganizedNeatly, #FollowMeTo, #Silhouettes, and Throwback Thursday (#tbt), which consists of users’ old photos posted on, well, Thursdays. (Note: Hashtags are not case-sensitive, but using upper case to show where the smushed words begin displays social courtesy.)

Check location settings — Instagram has a location service that lets users attach location tags, or geotags, to their photos. This is valuable during breaking news events; users can zoom in on the mapping feature to see who else has shot photos or video nearby and verify their locations.

SugarString melts from the heat of its own bias

SugarString logoWell, heck, that sure didn’t last.

And it’s not hard to understand why.

SugarString, an attempt by Verizon to create a technology news website in the vein of Wired or The Verge, dissipated like sugar in warm water this week after the site’s editor admitted it would not lay even a keystroke on two key telecommunications issues: government surveillance and network neutrality.

The reason? Verizon sits squarely in the headlight beams of both issues. The company reportedly complied with government demands to turn over customer data, according to National Security Agency records leaked by contractor-in-exile Edward Snowden. It also has sued against having an open Internet, saying the government’s regulations preventing tiered access, and thus tiered charges, violate Verizon’s constitutional rights.

Of course, bad news is bad business for branded content, otherwise known as native advertising — a form of marketing that intentionally blurs the line between pure advertising and editorial. Even the best, most creative product-sponsored journalists on Verizon’s payroll would have trouble sewing silk purses out of what their employer clearly believes are two big, stinking sow’s ears.

SugarString’s editor, Cole Stryker, revealed as much right up front. When Stryker recruited potential staffers through emails, he made clear in those emails that surveillance and network neutrality were forbidden as story subjects. Naturally, the potential recruits turned around and wrote about these restrictions for SugarString’s potential competitors. Verizon responded to the sour smell of hypocrisy in Stryker’s emails by denying the editorial restrictions even existed, and it waved off bias concerns by characterizing the site as merely a “pilot project” — a multimillion-dollar one at that.

Yet by Wednesday, SugarString.com was dark and Verizon had issued a terse, dismissive eulogy that closed this way: “… As with any pilot project, we evaluate, take our learnings (sic), improve our execution and move forward.”

Maybe among those “learnings,” Verizon realizes it should use the word “lessons” instead.

Twitter tips for Black Friday reporting

Black Friday sale logoFew holiday traditions embolden us and irritate us at once like Black Friday.

Once a hallmark of dread in this country — in the 1960s, it referred to the day President John F. Kennedy was shot — Black Friday turned a profitable shade of green around 2005 when brick-and-mortar stores unilaterally realized its potential as a deal-making gimmick to stem losses from online-only Christmas retailers.

(That was back when the two were still rather distinct. Now, online retailers have their own arbitrary holiday observance, Cyber Monday.)

It’s arguable whether Black Friday has turned from gimmick to myth. Even though 141 million Americans elbowed and shoved each other on the way toward spending an estimated $57 billion on that day in 2013, a study by The Wall Street Journal found that over the previous six Black Fridays, shoppers actually found better deals on other days before Christmas.

Nevertheless, the madness in the aisles returns this week followed by an army of journalists employing social media — Twitter and Instagram in particular — to chronicle the ersatz tradition.

For shoppers brave enough wade through the crowds, perhaps the best advice is to wear pads and a helmet. But for journalists bobbing in Black Friday’s wake, these tweeting tips are paramount:

Always include hashtags, but not too many — Attaching a “#” to the front of a word or conjoined phrase turns it into metadata that search engines sift for and then regurgitate as trend topics. Using them enables Twitter users to find relevant conversations and terms quickly, whether that term is a store name, a popular gift, or a sales event. But limit the number of hashtags to three per tweet; it’s good Twitter protocol.

Be wary of “wow” promotions — Retailers recast themselves as newsmakers when they have big in-store promotions and make liberal use of “first” and “biggest” and “best” and similar unqualified terms to push their products. Before heading to the stores, research retailers’ Twitter accounts — distinguished with an “@” in front of their names instead of a hashtag — as well as brand accounts and compare feeds. Also, it helps to research a store’s or brand’s social media history to see whether supposed Black Friday discounts are better than or comparable to deals at other times of the year.

Track user engagement — Those hashtags come in handy when watching shopper and retailer behavior, but journalists have to pay attention to others’ feeds and not tweet blindly. Monitoring feeds enables reporters to see what people around them are doing and reduces the mistake of tweeting or retweeting contradictory or incorrect information.

Keep an eye on time stamps — And speaking of mistakes, Twitter’s habit of bumping popular tweets to the top of everyone’s feeds also creates confusion about when and where events actually happen. Consequently, in the rush to report, journalists may mistake old feeds for current ones. Take a second to look carefully at the time and date in gray to the right of the tweeter’s account name. Sure, it’s hard for old eyes to see, but a squint beats a gaffe every time.

Twitter just became a better tool for journalists

Twitter logo and magnifying glassDo you remember your initial tweet?

How about the 20 or 40 tweets that followed?

The first question may be easy to answer. The second, not so much.

But Twitter just announced a way to change that. The 284-million member microblogging platform now has full indexing as well as a search service that can sift for any public tweet ever posted.

So now you can easily dig up the first-ever tweets by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey in 2006, the tweets from the hundreds of people who launched a social media maelstrom this summer in Ferguson, Mo., and about half a trillion other tweets from around the globe.

Before this, only portions of Twitter’s massive archive were available, and those only since 2012.

“Our search engine excelled at surfacing breaking news and events in real time, and our search index infrastructure reflected this strong emphasis on recency,” said Yi Zhuang, search engineer at Twitter, in a blog post Tuesday. “But our long-standing goal has been to let people search through every tweet ever published.”

This opens a door for journalists to find and understand more of the dialog generated online — dialog now considered crucial to our understanding of events and our place in them.

“This new infrastructure … (provides) comprehensive results for entire TV and sports seasons, conferences, industry discussions, places, businesses and long-lived hashtag conversations across topics such as #JapanEarthquake, #Election2012, #ScotlandDecides, #HongKong, #Ferguson, and many more,” Yi wrote.

He noted that the new search is rolling out over several days and is limited to scouring keywords, though other search elements will be added in time. Only viable tweets marked as public are searchable. Deleted tweets won’t appear, but assorted third-party tools are available to uncover those.

For now, search results appear in the “All” tab of the Twitter Web client, as well as the iOS and Android mobile apps. The interface will change as the index evolves, Yi said.

Deleting your tweeting is cheating

Delete Tweets iconRemember correction fluid? It had names such as Liquid Paper and Wite-Out.

How about correction tape?

Or, how about those pencil- or wheel-shaped typewriter erasers with a plastic brush at one end? The brush was intended to whisk away bits of worn eraser, which usually landed inside the typewriter anyway.

In the days before digital, these were the tools of reputation management. They were cumbersome, messy, and in the case of correction fluid, toxic; the fumes were as potent as gasoline — and anyone prone to typing errors inhaled a lot of fumes.

They also were imperfect at covering imperfections. Shrewd hiring managers held résumés and cover letters up to the light to find the telltale blotches and smudges left by correction fluid. Minus those, an applicant could land the job on perfect typing alone.

Today, we depend on the Delete or Backspace keys to correct mistakes and believe nobody is wise to our errors when they vanish off the screen before our eyes. In truth, the ghosts of our gaffes cling to the Web and leave telltale traces, much like correction fluid.

Nowhere is this more obvious than social media, especially Twitter, where bits of conversations spin off and tumble around inside the platform like socks in a Laundromat dryer. One phrase or image may be plucked out of context and hurled perhaps too far to see where it came from but not far enough to forget. And if that phrase or image is tasteless or inaccurate — well, imagine what happens when one red sock gets mixed in with a load of white laundry.

The solution, many journalists believe, is to delete the offending or inaccurate tweet, also known as scrubbing, but as recent examples suggest that only makes the problem worse.

Bloomberg Politics got caught up in a vicious spin cycle last month when it tweeted about an interview with White House chef Sam Kass about the Obamas’ family dining and paired a portrait of the president with what appears to be a stock image of chicken wings, thus stirring claims of racial stereotyping. The tweet came down without apology but not before thousands saw it and hundreds retweeted it.

The same week, CNN was hit by a tweetstorm after a staffer posted a photo of the network’s morning anchor team apparently making fun of the Ebola scare. The photo was even retweeted by a member of the anchor team before a CNN executive demanded it come down.

The following week, a national correspondent for CBS News suffered embarrassment over her reporting about U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s criticism of federal reaction to Ebola. Amid the dialog, she asserted that Paul lacked the medical wisdom to be objective on the matter. Paul has held a medical license in his home state of Kentucky since 1993, a fact that appears even on Wikipedia. Yet she pulled down the tweet instead of correcting the record.

In each case, the deletion had an impact opposite of what was intended. And not just these three; examples abound of media, celebrities, and politicians smearing their messes over a wider area merely by deleting an errant or inappropriate tweet.

The better strategy? Leave the tweet alone and post a follow-up containing a correction or an apology if necessary. Here’s why:

It minimizes confusion — Retweets, no matter their number, trace back to their origins, and having a string of retweets linked to a blank space in the Twitter time stream can confuse readers who are following the story or merely trying to corroborate information posted by other journalists and readers.

It maximizes credibility — Wherever a gap exists in the Twitter time stream, other Twitter users fill it with conjecture and assumption. Admitting a mistake or issuing an apology not only prevents speculation from seeping into the conversation, it also demonstrates responsibility on the part of the Twitter user and responsible users are considered credible sources.

You can’t change the past — Once a tweet goes live, it never really dies. The Library of Congress signed a deal with Twitter in 2010 to sweep up all Tweets for posterity and now keeps them in a sprawling searchable database.

Typewriters compelled users to think twice before hitting the keys to avoid cumbersome corrections. Treating Twitter with the same respect yields the same result.

iPhones, iPads under attack from China?

WireLurker logoApple Inc. made its powerful brand name on the strength of intuitive technology that for years seemed immune to routine hacking. Now, a malware campaign afflicting China threatens to dampen that distinction and harm those here who rely on any one of an estimated 800 million iPads, iPhones and 64-bit Macs.

The WireLurker malware reportedly flourishes in China on pirated software. Once installed it burrows into the operating system and waits for peripherals to connect, whereby it records the information passed between the devices. Much of that information consists of serial numbers, phone numbers and iTune store identification information.

Then WireLurker installs benign-looking apps that sift for other identifiers including texting history, address books and other private files to pinpoint potential targets. WireLurker also imports regular updates from an attacker’s command servers, thus remaining on guard against counterattacks.

Security company Palo Alto Networks alerted Apple users on this side of the Pacific in a recently released white paper.

Although WireLurker poses no immediate threat here as yet, it represents a comprehensive approach to malware distribution not seen before with Apple products, Palo Alto Networks says.

To reduce the risk of infection, users of Apple devices are advised to take a few precautions:

  • Avoid downloads from any location other than iTunes or the Mac App Store. To ensure this, in the System Preferences panel, click on the check box next to “Allow apps downloaded from Mac App Store (or Mac App Store and identified developers)”
  • Avoid connecting or pairing your Mac or portables with other unsecured devices, whether they are Mac- or PC-based.
  • Keep the operating systems updated on all devices. The updates also plug holes in system security.
  • Keep all antivirus and anti-malware programs updated as well.

Keep in mind as well: The people most at risk are those who ignore every pop-up security warning Apple throws at them.

Palo Alto Networks is providing a tool to detect WireLurker infection on Mac and advises that removing WireLurker and the damage it causes will require expert attention.

Wi-Fi can be hazardous to your health

Image courtesy of iStockphotoFear is an excellent deterrent. It saps our confidence, curtails our energy and tempers our judgment. It forces us to change our direction and our thinking.

Rarely though do we let it change our behavior. The consequences of fear must be palpable, looming, for that to happen.

A recent article by Maurtis Martijn for the Dutch crowdfunded site De Correspondent reminds us however that even when a threat is real, our response to it can be irrational.

Martijn wrote at length this month about the danger we face when joining unsecured public wi-fi networks — those that do not require a password to join. To demonstrate that danger, he strolled through central Amsterdam with self-described “ethical hacker” Wouter Slotboom — not the snooper’s real name — looking for cafés that provide free wi-fi.

At each location, Martijn and Slotboom sat at any table. Then Slotboom pulled from his backpack a small black device that he placed on the table and obscured with a menu. He then linked to the device with his laptop and in moments discovered the identities of every other laptop, smartphone and tablet used by every customer in the café.

Moments later, Slotboom obtained the network identity of those customers and with that was able to discover personal information about each.

“All you need is 70 euros (for the device), an average IQ, and a little patience,” Slotboom told Martijn.

The marketplace affords Slotboom and shady sorts of his ilk plenty of potential. More than half the U.S. population of 316 million owns a smartphone or laptop, and the number of tablet owners is catching up to both. All of those devices have connected to an open wi-fi network at least once, often without a device owner’s knowledge (the default on mobile devices is set to discover available networks).

And as the mobile market grows, more doors open for hackers. The threat intelligence firm Risk Based Security, Inc. estimates nearly 1 billion records — credit card information, medical records, passwords, social security numbers, etc. — were breached in 2013, with 65 percent of the activity occurring in the United States.

Risk Based Security says we’re on a pace to suffer well over 1 billion breaches this year.

The numbers are new but the rationale for them is not; stories about wi-fi security predate the advent of public hotspots. Yet many of us disregard the threat or expect strangers to respect our personal security. We choose convenience over caution. We invest trust where none was earned.

Such behavior today borders on irresponsible; lax personal security compromises the security of others if their information is on our devices. And the threat is not looming or imminent — it’s here, happening now, via unsecured wi-fi networks across the country.

It may even be happening to you now while you sip your latte.

So, curtail the risk and subdue your paranoia by taking these small, simple steps:

Choose the correct network — During Slotboom’s staged “man-in-the-middle” attacks, he created fictitious wi-fi networks on his computer for café customers to join, and dozens did. This simplified the task of discovering passwords and account numbers; people typed them directly into his network thinking it was legitimate. Slotboom often named the networks after real businesses to make them appear authentic. He urges users of free wi-fi to verify the network, either by asking the proprietor or checking the address on signs that promote the service, to avoid joining rogue networks by mistake.

If the option exists to pay for access to a secure network, take it. A little fee trumps a big headache.

Choose ‘htpps’ — That “s” extension after the “http” at the beginning of a Web address indicates the connection is secure and the connection to the Web server is authentic. Not all websites have this; still others provide both. Even so, only certain amounts of traffic are encrypted, not all of it. Regular users of unsecured networks help themselves by doing homework on whether the sites they visit have this layer of security before surfing in public, and they should never, ever, shop or do anything online involving a credit card while using unsecured wi-fi.

On some sites, you can add the “s” yourself. The Electronic Frontier Foundation distributes a browser extension called HTTPS Everywhere that encrypts communications between major websites and is available for Windows, Mac and Linux.

Use ‘two-step’ authentication — Many email providers and commercial websites have the option of a second login, where users receive a texted code they must type after their initial login to gain access. Two-step or two-factor authentication reduces the chance a hacker can gain access to an account with just the password.

Use a password manager — Sometimes we feel as though there is only enough RAM in our heads to get us through the day. This leads us to concoct simple or repeated passwords for the many websites we use that require a login. A password manager program generates unique and complex passwords for each site and keeps them locked up with one master password. Password managers also guard against keylogging — the surreptitious recording of keystrokes by hackers — by automatically filling in a site’s password field.

Turn off sharing; turn on firewalls — The sharing feature allows mobile devices to connect with other devices and networks. Free wi-fi users should disable this feature when not in need of sharing. (The instructions are different for Windows and Mac.) At the same time, make sure the device’s firewall (Windows/Mac) is active and working.

Invest in a VPN — A virtual private network, or VPN, encrypts traffic between devices and designated VPN servers, thus creating a private network across a public network. VPNs run shared data through a point-to-point connection that shields the data from unwanted interference much like an umbrella shields you from the rain. Many businesses employ VPNs to let employees access company networks remotely.

The best VPNs cost a small fee for full protection. VPNs also slow down page-load speeds somewhat. Still, they add an element of confidence in an uncertain environment.

Update all software — Finally, make sure your antivirus and anti-malware programs are up to date, and install all the latest operating system upgrades. These upgrades not only enhance overall performance, they also contain patches and fixes that help hold back the most recent security threats lurking across the Web — or across the room.

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