Mat Honan is a technology writer for Wired who has covered all sorts of high-tech gadgetry and software. That software, sadly, turned around and bit him last week when two young hackers essentially destroyed his online life, wiping out his Gmail and iPhone accounts and even going so far as to delete all his laptop files remotely.
The saddest thing? Honan lost irreplaceable pictures of his young daughter.
"Had I been regularly backing up the data on my MacBook, I wouldn't have had to worry about losing more than a year’s worth of photos, covering the entire lifespan of my daughter, or documents and emails that I had stored in no other location," he wrote.
Here's how to keep what happened to him from happening to you.
1. Back up. There is literally no excuse not to back up all your computers. Hard drives are amazingly cheap and all it takes is a few minutes to plug in a drive, set up your Windows or Mac to back up automatically, and then just let things run.
2. Back up. If you use a Mac, buy a Time Capsule. This drive will be in your house busily backing up everything on all of your computers. You won't have to touch a single button - just select the drive in Time Machine and you're ready to rock.
3. Turn off Find My Mac. The hackers used a tool called Find My Mac to erase Mat's computer. It's in the iCloud panel of the OS X control panel and you should turn it off until Apple fixes the problems that caused the hack in the first place. There is no similar feature in Windows, so you're safe there.
4. Install Prey. If you're worried about losing your computer, you can install the Prey Project to track and control it if it's lost or stolen. I've mentioned this application before but it's really worth the few minutes it takes to install.
5. Use a password manager. These programs store your passwords in a safe place so you can always access them and they automatically fill in web forms for you. Some browsers already support this, but having a centralized repository allows you to grab them on the go and when you're on computers that aren't your own. I've been using mSecure recently, but there are plenty of them out there. Think of this as a safe for your passwords so you can remember them a bit more easily.
6. Change your passwords and don't reuse them. I know it's hard. There are loads of services out there and loads of accounts. Your best bet, however, is to use a password manager and create unique passwords for each of your accounts. Try this site to generate fairly memorable passwords quickly and easily.
7. Back up. Seriously. If you're thinking you'll do this tomorrow, don't. Do it today. Don't lose your precious pictures and data.
While you probably won't be the victim of a cybercrime, it's always better to be safe than sorry.
What do you do to protect yourself from being hacked?