Avoid using other people’s external storage drives. USB sticks, thumb drives, flash drives…whatever you call them, they’re the dirty hands of the Internet. Don’t shake them!
If someone’s USB stick gets infected with a virus and they put it in your computer, guess what? You’re infected too.
Don’t touch shared portable drives. You have too much to risk. With email attachments and cloud storage options, there are few reasons to use them anymore. But I also understand some companies, organizations and sources will hand over an external drive containing the documentation, video or audio you need for a story. Here’s what you should do.
First ask if they can upload the files into a shared storage service. If that’s not possible, perhaps your news organization can establish a computer that allows you and other reporters to download files from USB drives without having to place your own laptop at risk. And if that’s not possible, scan the storage device for malware and then continue to scan your computer on a regular basis for any signs of infection.
Same is true of Wi-Fi hot spots. The availability of readily available public Wi-Fi connections was a defining moment in my career. It meant freedom, speed, convenience and multi-tasking at its best. Having the ability to research my story pitch for the morning meeting while waiting in line for coffee—brilliant! But the downside to this digital blessing is cyber criminals have caught on to the beauty of Wi-Fi and look to intercept data from shared hotspots.
Public Wi-Fi networks make it easy for everyone to connect. As a result many security and encryption protections are disabled, allowing your data to travel unprotected. All a miscreant has to do is intercept
your signal and—bingo—whatever you’ve just transmitted, like your email, user name and password, is captured.
* Your first move is never use a Wi-Fi connection unless it’s your own. But believe me, I know that’s not always possible.
* So remember—only surf websites you’re comfortable with a stranger seeing. Don’t conduct any online banking, financial transactions or communications about sensitive stories. Disable your file sharing. Limit your email/IM to topics that you’re okay sharing with everyone.
* And when you’re finished, turn off your wireless card so it’s not connecting to hotspots without you knowing.
* Even better— as a journalist, use your own personal hotspot and simply consider it the cost of protecting your sources, notebook, and stories.