2010 November

Every Day is Cyber Momday

Today is Cyber Monday, the day when millions of shoppers set forth on the web to find unprecedented deals on merchandise.  Retailers large and small are participating in Cyber Monday, either passively or deliberately.  The truth is – Cyber Monday is a marketers’ dream.  The day itself marks the beginning of the very concentrated holiday shopping season on the web.  People are actively thinking about their holiday gift needs right after Thanksgiving and they return to work, and their computers, today.  So essentially they are stealing time from their employers to shop in record numbers.  And retailers are encouraging them to do it by coining the day – Cyber Monday. The next few weeks will see a significant upturn in web-based commerce.  More than likely, in order to beat the traffic and the crowds, you’ll be buying a good portion of your holiday gifts and supplies online.  While you’re surfing and shopping, though, criminals and mischief-makers are hitting the web in record numbers too.  It’s more critical than ever to have some awareness of what you’re up against when it comes to protecting your data and your credit and to be somewhat prepared to counter the efforts of the (using a term my son uses often) ‘bad guys’ on the internet.  If you’re new or still a little unsure about cyber shopping then this post is for you.  Well, it’s not, it’s actually for my mother and everyone like my mother – those people wanting to jump into the excitement of web shopping but who still have a tendency to believe every crazy email they receive and click on every errant pop-up that dances across their screen.  Here are some simple tips to help mom, and the entire family, stay just a little safer online this holiday season.

Avoid The Deal-In-A-Message
It’s hard to ignore the personalized notes that we receive via email or Facebook messages.  You know the ones I’m talking about – those messages that come addressed to you and seem to have read your mind.  They talk about a hard to beat deal and then include a link directly to a seemingly reputable website where you can purchase the item to realize these fabulous savings.  These messages are generally a phishing scam.  They trick you into believing you’re actually on the Amazon site (for example) and get you to share personal information and credit card data.  They do this by using that link to take you to a website that probably isn’t legitimate at all.  It’s unfortunate that something so simple can fool so many people.  But don’t feel bad – the scammers are really good!  They make the link look believable and the pages themselves could really BE real pages from (again for the sake of example) Amazon or Target.  Here’s a not-so-secret secret, though.  If Amazon is really selling your dream item at this unbelievable price you don’t need that link to access it.  Visit Amazon (or whatever site the link claims to represent) directly – just type the website into your browser without clicking on a link.  Once there, search on the item you want to purchase.  If it’s on sale the search will reveal the sale-priced item.  Don’t risk clicking on those links.  

Be Wary of Links On Facebook
An added layer of security, and one you should have some awareness of is HTTPS – when you look at a website’s address it looks like this:  http://www.geekgirlsguide.com.  But a site that uses SSL encryption for server verification and to encrypt the transfer of data will look like this:  https://www.geekgirlsguide.com (don’t click on that-it’s just an example).  Start noticing the S.  Look for it AND the padlock when you want to share data and make purchases.  Check here for a full explanation of Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure.

You might want to try to force a secure connection with every web interaction.  You can do that by downloading and installing a plug-in that will do exactly that — literally force a secure connection with every (or as often as possible) website you visit.  This is handy when you’re using public wi-fi. But it also helps to protect you from the danger of packet or data sniffing in which real criminals do engage.  It is exactly what it sounds like – cyber thieves try to find holes in the data exchanges between your computer and the server where a website lives.  They try to sniff out or grab any data they can that may be less than secure.  Forcing this kind of connection is one additional way you can protect yourself from this kind of activity.  One Firefox plug in that does this is Force TLS.  If you’re a home user and you generally transmit data via an ethernet (or hard-wired) connection, this might be overkill.  But if you use a laptop or other portable device and/or you tap into public wireless internet, do consider forcing that extra layer of security.

Choose Good Passwords
Security starts with you.  In fact, your security starts with your passwords.  The biggest favor you can do for yourself and your data is to select solid passwords.  This means that you have to stop using your kid’s names, your dog’s names, your husband’s name.  Start making up passwords that are truly hard to figure out.  Longer strings of characters (letters, numbers and, in some instances, additional characters) — think about a 20 character password.  I am not kidding.  This is the primary thing that stands between you and criminals trying to get at your data.  20 characters might seem like a pain, but it’ll save you heartache and real true pain in the long run.  

Many websites that require passwords help you rate the strength of your password when you create an account.  There are also services online that are available via reputable brands and companies that provide a password strength rating service.  Microsoft has one – search the Microsoft site and check your passwords to see if they are weak or not.  You might be surprised at what you find.

Being safe on the web begins and ends with you, really.  Understanding what to look for and hesitating when you have even the slightest doubt help you to avoid getting into trouble and losing your data to the ‘bad guys.’  There are no sure-fire ways to avoid being a victim of data theft.  But the more you know, the more you can protect yourself.

Happy Shopping!

Podcast #27: Keynote News With A Side Of Security

We’re excited to announce that we’re one of the keynote sessions for MinneWebCon 2011! Along with that good news, we’d also like to encourage other female speakers (and really anyone with solid, innovative content) to submit their proposals for this year’s event. If you’ve got something good to say, make sure you share it!

In Podcast 26, we mentioned a Firefox plugin called Firesheep. While we didn’t go into much detail, we did promise a deeper conversation about it in the next podcast. This is that podcast! Listen further to find out more about how the plugin works, and what it means for your information. While we’re on the subject of sharing information that you may or may not know you’re sharing, we also touched on the new Facebook Friendship pages. Do you know what Facebook is saying about you and your friends?

Additional Resources

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Social Media for Humans (in 3 Easy Steps!)

Lately, lots of people have been asking about how to handle social media on an individual level. The questions really boil down to this: “How much should I share?” and  “How ‘strategic’ should I be about what I share?”

My answer is simple:

1. Keep an eye on the content you’re putting out about yourself and determine if it’s an accurate representation.
2. Think about what content you want to — or should — share.
3. Try stuff, and see how you like it. Keep doing the stuff that feels right and quit the stuff that doesn’t.

Business Strategy vs. Personal Strategy

There’s a difference between organizations and individuals when it comes to social media. Generally speaking, an organization’s goals are relatively static; it’s strategies and tactics that, to varying degrees, change more often. But, as a human, goals change all the time. Sometimes, there is no goal. I’ve certainly published content about myself that had no point except that I wanted to say it. (Actually, that pretty much sums up my 20s.) But the same goes for real life, too — we have all sorts of pointless conversations with each other because that’s what humans do. The seemingly pointless actually does have a point and that point is socializing. That we would create technology to facilitate this was inevitable.

Organizations are starting to get comfortable with the notion that if they can figure out how to socialize with us — or at least connect with us in social spaces without pissing us off — it might lead to business. But, ultimately, their goal is business. No matter how you cut it, how awesome an organization’s social media engagement is, the hard truth is that they’re trying to sell you something. There’s nothing wrong with that (Go, capitalism!), but organizations aren’t in the business of being our friend. They’re in the business of business.

So, like I said: sometimes, for people, there is no goal. At other times, our goals are quite concrete: Get a job. Sell a house. Find a daycare. And during those times our social interactions, online and off, are often in service of those goals. It is in those times that we are grateful for all the non-goal oriented interactions we’ve had with people, because now we feel okay about asking them for favors. We get a little (ahem) strategic about who we communicate with, and how.

When my son was a baby, my goal was to find some new friends to hang out with because I felt kind of lonely as a too-busy working mom with two young children. Did I write that goal down and create a strategic plan to find friends? Nope. I organized a happy hour with a bunch of chicks I knew via Twitter. People that seemed funny, smart and interesting based on the stuff they were sharing. I formed an opinion about who they were and whether or not I wanted to hang out with them based mainly on what they had shared online. In other, more gross jargon-y talk, I selected them based on their personal brand.

But getting overly “strategic” about your personal social media usage can be skeevy. It removes some of the humanity that makes social media…social. On the flip side, not stopping to think about what you share can be damaging to you, your employer (and therefore, your employment), and your family and friends. So, how can you be thoughtful about what you share online without going overboard and creating a spreadsheet and quarterly reports about your bad self?

My© Patented™ Process♥

1. Keep an eye on the content you’re putting out about yourself and determine if it’s an accurate representation.

To take care of the “keep an eye on the content” part of this, Google yourself, and set up Google Alerts (see our 5-Minute Guide to Google Alerts) for your own name, and any other names or terms you want to keep an eye on.

As far as whether or not it’s an accurate representation, you can decide that for yourself. Or, better yet, ask someone who doesn’t know you very well to Google you and send you a recap of who they think you are based on what they find. You might be surprised.

If what they find dismays you, start cleaning it up by creating new, more accurate content (or, if they didn’t find anything — start creating ANY content). LinkedIn is a great place to begin because it’s very low risk (in terms of sharing personal information) and ranks highly in Google search results.

2. Think about what content you want to — or should — share and make public.

  • Does your Facebook profile show up in Google search results? Do you want it to? How much can strangers see of your profile?
  • Are you going to use location-based networks like Foursquare? Who do you want knowing where you are?
  • Who do you want knowing what your political or religious beliefs are?
  • Do you want to connect with clients or co-workers?
  • How might revealing personal information affect your professional life and vice versa?

There are no right answers. What do YOU want to to share? There are valid reasons for making lots of your information open to the public, and many risks, too. It’s just like the stock market: some people have a high tolerance for risk and others don’t. Figure out how safe you want to play it, and start there. It makes no difference what works for someone else: figure out what feels right to you. Start with what feels comfortable. Over time, your risk tolerance may increase as you start to see some of the personal rewards that can come from healthy social interactions online. I don’t know what that “reward” may look like for you: keeping in touch with family, expanding your professional network, establishing yourself as an expert in your field…there are endless possible benefits.

3. Start trying stuff out, and see how you like it. Keep doing the stuff that feels right and quit the stuff that doesn’t.

This one should be pretty self-explanatory. Explore. Hey, it’s the internet: it’s pretty fun, and you won’t break it.

Online vs. Offline

Ok, really? This “process” is just a digital version of what we do in real life all the time. We edit ourselves every moment of every day based on our environment (am I at home or at work?), our company (am I with my boss or my swear-like-a-pirate sister?), and our motivation (am I trying to get a job with this person or trying to get them to wake up?). The thing is, in real life, we rarely need to stop to think about it. It just happens. It’s a natural human response to our surroundings.

Online, we don’t have those same social cues. Updating my Facebook status feels different than standing in front of a room filled with 500 people, and yet the two actions have a similar effect. So, here’s a pro tip: don’t post anything online that you wouldn’t stand up and say in front of a room full of strangers. It sounds simple, but I’m often amazed at the things people say online that they would never have the guts to say to someone’s face. So, while you don’t need to draft some kind of complex content diagram for yourself, it’s important to take a minute to think about what you want to share online because of its ease and relative permanance.

I’ll admit I’ve had my fair share of awkward moments where I’ve shared something that I later wish I wouldn’t have. It happens. It’s easy to forget when you’re tweeting or blogging or Facebooking that you’re writing something that could be seen by a whole lot of people — some of whom you may not know — and that it’s contributing to their idea of who you are.

So while “personal brand” is a popular term (and one I’ve been known to use myself), I don’t think anyone needs to take themselves so seriously that they need to create an official brand strategy for themselves (and, by extension, some kind of complicated personal social media plan).

If I had to sum up my thoughts on this in two sentences, it’d be this: Think, but don’t think too hard. Be the best human being you can be, and it will come through in everything you do — online and off.

Podcast #26: Social Engineering (or whatever)

In this podcast we touch on some recent reader questions around Facebook privacy and the importance of being smart with your profiles, pages, and other accounts online.

We discuss the difference between phishing and social engineering scams, and the ever-present annoyance of spammers and and weirdos.

Tune in next time when the ladies dive in for a closer look at Firesheep and some of the surrounding controversy.

Additional Links:

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Event: ClockworkShop – Social Media 101

Next Wednesday, November 10th, Clockwork is hosting our first ever (and first in a, hopefully, long series) ClockworkShop – featuring the Geek Girls Guide.  Once again, Meghan and I will be discussing Social Media and providing an overview of the social landscape.  Our Social Media 101 presentation has been billed as one for ‘newbies’ and the deck is certainly one of our more well-traveled slideshows. To be honest,  The Geek Girls Guide is ready to get past the social media hype and start exploring new ideas, emerging technologies and bigger conversations.  We are the first to say that we have no interest in pigeon-holing ourselves as ‘social media speakers’.  The more compelling part of the social discussion is how we are changing culturally.  There is so much to discuss and to be explored around that cultural shift.

One of the points we make on the Clockwork website, and in so many conversations, is that the web has always been social.  This recent, overwhelming interest in social channels has been fun to watch.  But it’s not new.  The web has always been about connections, conversations and relationships.  The tools that facilitate these are just that much more accessible.  Business is about relationships.  Our culture and how we communicate is changing.  There are much bigger conversations to have.  We want our Social Media 101 session to be the first of many – empowering our audience to tell their own stories and connect with messages and influencers that resonate with them. But we want to make sure that everyone is on board for the next ‘big thing’.  We can’t push so hard for what’s next if there are still people with questions about what’s now. 

This website was developed to be a resource for people outside of our industry.  Many social media practitioners are talking about the value of the medium inside of a vacuum.  They are talking to each other.  We wanted to add another voice to the discussion and focus our energy outward.  These workshops are not for people in our industry.  They are not for Social Evangelists. It’s just that there are still so many questions and still so much confusion around social media – what is is, how it should be used and how we should be thinking about it – that we still think these introductory discussions are necessary.  So, as much as we want to continue to push the needle forward and encourage and facilitate new conversations and new adventures, we also can’t disregard what our audience is asking of us.  

Do join us next week on Wednesday evening.  There are only a few seats left.  And do look for future ClockworkShops featuring the Geek Girls Guide, and many other brilliant and talented Clockworkers covering everything from knitting, to bicycle maintenance to technology and usability.  We are excited to expand our education and outreach efforts.  We look forward to sharing that work with you.  And, as always, we thank you for being a fellow geek, or geek wannabe.