The Guide to Secure Online Living and Protecting your Digital World

Every Day Connected provides useful tips and ideas on how to keep your digital information safe and secure. Providing daily malware updates, new innovation on privacy and data protection, as well as products and services that can help.

Keep Your Data Safe When Telecommuting

Thanks to the Web, more and more people are working remotely -- from home or anywhere. But not commuting anymore doesn't mean you don't have the same security issues that your corporate-office counterparts do. Here's how to protect your data, devices and computer without an IT department:

1. Back up your data in the cloud.
It’s easy to lose all your work: One computer virus or hard-disk-drive meltdown, and your important files may vanish forever. That’s why, when working from home, backup is crucial. Instead of depending on bulky hardware, try the many cloud services on the Web. They back up new content every night while you sleep, keeping your files safe and allowing you access from any computer at any time.

"Backup used to be cost-prohibitive," says Phil Montero, founder and CEO of an online resource called You Can Work From Anywhere. But these days, many online services charge as little as $50 per year, depending on your needs. Mozy even offers certain amounts of backup for free. If you’re only backing up documents, Google Docs is another good bet.

2. Protect your computer and critical files.
If your employer issues you a PC or laptop to use at home, they'll often install security software or a Web-based security service to block viruses or bar hackers. But if you are self-employed, the burden of protecting your computer and data from the increasing array of online security threats falls squarely on your shoulders.

When choosing a cloud-based security service, be sure it protects your computer with antivirus, spyware and firewall programs. It should also constantly updates to protect you against evolving threats.

You should also limit your family members’ access to your work computer. "You have to be sure that the really critical stuff isn't made accessible to someone who shouldn't have access to it," says Jack M. Nilles, founder of JALA International, a global telecommuting consulting company. "That includes the kids getting on your computer and downloading something [harmful]."

Finally, keep passwords and ID numbers private so they don’t fall into the wrong hands.

3. Seamlessly collaborate with others.
Whether you work on your home computer once a week or full time, if you need to share files with colleagues, synchronization tools can help ensure you (or your team) are working on the correct or latest version of a document. The “old” way to do this was to copy the files from your home computer onto an external hard drive, CD or thumb drive and install them on your work computer. But this process sets you up for accidentally writing over the most recent files -- and what if this external backup device you were depending on is destroyed or lost?

Cloud services enable you to sync automatically to ensure speedy backups. Or try Microsoft’s FolderShare, which allows you to synchronize files with colleagues over the Web.

There's no doubt to the benefits of Web to the home office worker. That said, you want to be smart about security issues. To really cover your bases, in addition to backing up and securing your data, Niles also says it's important to get a clear protocol from your company or clients: "We recommend that telecommuters working for a company have a formal agreement specifically stating who is responsible for what." This way, you can always fall back on the agreed-upon security plan for your best-quality work away from your IT department.

4 Life-changing Resolutions You Can Stick To

Time flies. It’s 2011 already, yet it seems like just yesterday you were recovering from last year’s New Year’s Eve party. And before you know it, 1/1/11 will turn into 11/11/11 -- another year gone by. That’s when you may find yourself staring at the calendar and wondering what happened to all those resolutions of new years past.

Keeping resolutions is not just about willpower. It’s about having a system in place to reach your goals. The cloud can help, letting you store and access relevant software, tools and files via any of your Web-connected devices. Here’s how to use the cloud to keep some common new year’s resolutions:

Resolution No. 1: Get more organized.

  • Use online calendars and productivity tools to write your goals, set milestones and track and share your progress. Our three favorite tools: Google Docs, Cohuman and DreamTeam
  • Use apps to get real-time feeds from social media and RSS sources to stay on top of what’s important to you.
  • Clear out old, unwanted files and organize current files or projects in folders. Store files you want to save in the cloud for free, using such a service as Google Docs, Box.net, Windows Live Mesh or Amazon S3.
  • Protect your files. Secure access to digital storage is one of the top benefits of cloud computing: It lightens your computer’s load and improves its speed so you can get tasks done faster.


Resolution No. 2: Save more money and manage debt.

  • Clear your cookies. Better yet, before you make your next online purchase, upgrade your security software situation to a cloud-managed service that protects you from spyware, adware and malware to help maintain your privacy and protect your credit rating.
  • Take advantage of fraud and identity-theft protection features that are customizable through the cloud.
  • Use cloud tools, such as Mint.com, to create a budget and savings plan that helps you streamline your cash flow. Set calendar alerts to remind you of key payment deadlines.
  • Take pictures of items you want to sell with your smartphone and use Google’s Visual Search application to find out how much your items are worth.

Resolution No. 3: Spend more time with family.

  • Work from home one day a week. Use the cloud to access all the files you need. Easily share documents and collaborate with your team on projects via the Web. With secure access to servers and company files hosted in the cloud, more companies are allowing employees to cloud-commute.
  • Start your own home-based business. Cloud computing minimizes the headaches and costs associated with technical infrastructure, networks, software and security. Much of what you require is available on demand -- meaning you just pay for what you use, without a big up-front investment.
  • Use project management applications, free collaboration tools, document creation, video and sound editing, like Aviary, and free digital file storage.

Resolution No. 4: Volunteer more.

  • Use an online service like VolunteerMatch to locate your ideal project.
  • Use social media to share your experiences and spread the word.
  • Start your own community service project and manage it with cloud-based project management tools.
  • Start a Google Group to keep friends and volunteers organized and informed.
  • Check out Cloud for Good, a nonprofit and education-focused consulting group, to learn how to take your idea to the next level.

Web Tools for Starting a Small Business

More and more people own home-based businesses. And these days, Web-based services make it even easier than ever before to get your small business up and running. “It used to be, back then, that you would be embarrassed about working from home,” says Barbara Weltman, an attorney and author who started a business in her Millwood, N.Y., home in 1983 and has since written numerous books on small business, including The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Starting an eBay Business. “You took an outside address so it wouldn't sound like you were out in the suburbs. But that's not so anymore.”

Web-based tools can now help you start a business, get legal work done, professionalize your accounting and billing, and collaborate with others. If your home business still needs to get out of the dark ages -- or you want to get off on the right foot -- here is how Web resources can help you get organized:

Step 1: Research how to start your business.
If you're just launching your business, the Internet is a great place to start your research. For basic information and resources, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA)  offers tips on setting up a business, getting financing and whether there are any government programs for which your business may qualify. In addition, the Business Owner's Toolkit helps you select a business, write a plan, get loans, market your work and more.

Step 2: Make sure your business is legal.
Most state government websites allow you to download the forms you need to incorporate or to form a limited liability company (LLC). You can always hire a lawyer to help, but a lot of do-it-yourself resources online make such paperwork easy to navigate. BizFilings or Legal Zoom feature resources you can use to make your own legal decisions -- such as whether you should file for an LLC versus other types of corporations like a C Corp.

For tax liability issues, Weltman recommends turning to government tax websites, such as the U.S. Internal Revenue Service and state tax departments, to research any obligations that you may have to meet. You can download the tax booklets you need and place an online order for a federal employer identification number or state sales tax number.

“You also have to be aware that if you have any employees, including yourself, and you incorporate, there may be labor rules you need to know about,” adds Weltman. She recommends federal and state labor department websites to research labor laws.

Step 3: Get cloud-based finance and accounting services.
Many home businesses rely on popular accounting desktop software, such as QuickBooks from Intuit. But QuickBooks now has a cloud-based subscription offering, which means that all your business financials can be maintained online. So if your computer gets stolen or crashes -- or you’re on the road -- you can still access and download your records from any online computer. And so can your bookkeeper or accountant.

One free product that Weltman recommends is MyBizHomepage which extracts information from your QuickBooks software and displays it on your computer screen in an easy-to-understand “financial dashboard” graphic. “It lets you follow -- for free -- all your cash flow, so you know when things are going to be collected and when things are owed,” says Weltman.

Outright.com is another free online accounting service for light accounting needs, such as tracking income expenses and tax obligations. Bill.com costs $25 per month for one user and automates many aspects of small-business accounting.

Step 4: Stay organized.
One of the drawbacks to running a business from home has traditionally been the difficulty of staying on the same page with others. But not anymore. You can get organized with a bevy of cloud-based tools. For starters, you may already be using an online calendar tool, such as Google Calendar, which you can share with clients or business partners to schedule meetings.

iGoogle is free too and lets you bring all your tools together in once spot including Google Tasks or apps you select like SmartSheet, which offers template spreadsheets you can use to manage and share projects online. Or you can manage projects, contacts and documents with a cloud-based tool like the $99-a-month suite from Highrise -- which you can also access from your mobile device. And if you need a truly “virtual assistant,” Onebox manages your calls, faxes and conferencing entirely online for between $49.95 and $99.95 a month, depending on how many extensions you need.

Share Safely on Social Networks

The days when social networks were just for teens are long over: Adults now take up social networking for fun and business alike. One entrepreneur, Sheilah Etheridge of Anchorage, Alaska, uses social networks to turn up business leads for her home-based accounting and consulting firm. But Etheridge is selective with what she shares and where. “Everything we post on the Web is obviously out there for all the world to see, and it’s out there for eternity,” she says.

To get the most out of your favorite social networks, it’s important to be aware of how to protect your online privacy. Here’s how to share safely:

Tip No. 1: Don’t fork over too much personal info.
You don’t always know who is viewing even tidbits of your profiles, so think twice before you post sensitive -- or potentially embarrassing -- information, videos or photos on social networks. It could fall into the hands of identity thieves, prospective employers, college recruiters or even potential mates.

“People should assume the content they put online is going to be public,” says blogger Jeremiah Owyang, a former senior analyst for Forrester Research.

Tip No. 1: Review privacy policies before you post.
Some networks, such as LinkedIn, have adopted privacy policies that vouch they’ll never share your information with other users without your consent. Other sites, like Facebook and Twitter, offer online privacy settings that allow you to control who can view certain information and who gets notification when you add friends or Web applications.

But be mindful about the details: On Facebook, for example, your profile and photo privacy settings are separate. Just because you block non-friends from seeing your profile doesn’t bar them from seeing your photos. Make sure your review all your preferences under Account > Privacy Settings.

Tip No. 2: Don’t reveal every step you take.
It’s a freaky thought, but stalkers, jealous spouses and suspicious employers can use social networks to keep an eye on your every move. Many photos and posts are time-stamped, so the date and time you post it is recorded and shared with your network of friends or connections. This means your boss may be able to find out how much time you spend on Facebook while at work.

Facebook also allows you to “Check In” where you are, revealing your geographic location. On Twitter, you can note your location in your tweets and in your profile. If you want to keep your moves and location on the down-low, avoid checking in altogether and tweak your online privacy settings.

Tip No. 4: Be smart with apps.

Most social networking sites are for-profit companies, and advertising keeps membership free. Any time you sign up for a free app or contest on a social network, your private data might be used to target you with online advertising based on your activities.

“The purpose behind social networking sites is supposed to be to enable you to connect with friends and colleagues and do these networking activities,” says John Verdi, senior counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) , a nonprofit privacy advocacy group in Washington, D.C. “What they don’t say is that ‘our real purpose is to mine your data and sell it to the highest bidder.’”

So even if you’ve read Facebook’s online privacy policy, you still need to read the privacy policies of application-makers who promote their apps on Facebook. “They are third-party applications,” says Verdi. “The social networks don’t vouch for any of them.”

Tip No. 5: Don’t expect to be able to delete it once you post it.
It’s happened to the best of us: being haunted by your old social network posts that never die. There is an assumption that you “own” your profiles. But that’s not the case.

In the past, Facebook users were not able to completely delete their profiles. Facebook claimed it wanted to store the information in case users wanted to revive their profile, but it has now caved in under pressure from users to allow for easier deleting. MySpace and LinkedIn allow users to delete their profiles too.

But when it comes to posts you leave on others’ profiles -- or content that friends copied off your profile or blog -- it can remain online for eternity. “There are going to be remnants or ghosts,” says Owyang. “Assume that everything you put online is forever.”

The single best thing you can do before you put yourself out there on a social network? “Speak to other users you know and trust before joining some sites,” says Etheridge. In other words, network a bit before you sign up for a network so you can learn more about how the site protects your info -- or doesn’t.