Five things to start (and continue) doing in 2013

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. But the start of a new year is a good time for many to pause, look back at the last year, and think about things they would like to do differently in the coming year. Here are my five suggestions of things you should start doing right away.

  1. Back up your data and audit your backups. This may be the second most important thing you can do, and it’s not difficult. Florida attorney Katie Floyd has a great set of rules for backup systems. Katie drives a Mac, but the principles work on every platform. Also, don’t forget your portable devices (iPhones, iPads, Androids, etc.)! For iPhone and iPad users, Apple has a good overview of your backup options.  I highly recommend using iCloud to back up your iOS devices. When using iCloud, you can back up when you’re away from your computer. A friend of mine went to France last year, took a gazillion photos on his iPhone, and lost his iPhone at the airport in Paris. He didn’t have iCloud backup turned on, so he lost all of the photos. Learn from his mistake.
  2. Exercise. I know, I know. You hear this all the time. There’s a good reason for this repeated message that bombards us from every direction: exercise is important. In fact, 30 minutes of activity each day may be the most important thing you can do for yourself. Watch this ten-minute video where Dr. Mike Evans explains the research behind this idea.
  3. Reset your passwords. I’ve written about this before, and I’ll write about it again. But for now, read the article at Ars Technica explaining why your current passwords are probably useless. Then read Mat Honan’s article explaining why passwords alone are no longer sufficient to protect your online banking, Facebook account, etc. Yes, long random passwords are inconvenient. So is having two locks on your front door. All security is a tradeoff, and you need to consider how inconvenient it will be if you have to recover from a hacker’s success. As I’ve said before, 1Password and Lastpass are the type of tools you need to reduce the inconvenience. Start using them religiously. And don’t forget to enable two-factor authentication wherever possible (Google, Facebook, Dropbox, Yahoo! Mail, PayPal). You can also do a Google search for your particular service, like “disney.com two factor authentication” to see if there are instructions for setting it up.
  4. Plan your vacation. I’ve learned the value of always having a vacation planned and put on the calendar. One reason I do this is to make sure I always have a break to look forward to. Having that light at the end of the tunnel helps me keep a positive outlook at the office. Another reason I do this is to make sure that I take a break every five or six months. We lawyers are busy people, and if we don’t plan these breaks ahead of time, we end up not having the time to take them. Make the hotel reservations—you can always cancel them if the feathers hit the fan. Or, lock yourself in by making the plane reservations as well.
  5. Improve your work-life balance. Work hard, but play hard too. Commit to getting out of the office by 5:30 one or two days a week so you can have dinner with the family. (It’s really not that hard. If you treat your departure time like it’s time to catch a plane, you won’t have any problem telling your colleagues that a 5:15 meeting doesn’t work on your schedule that day.) No one ever said on his or her deathbed, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office.”

What resolutions or plans do you have for 2013? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

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Security and hacking nightmare

Wired Magazine journalist Mat Honan had his life hacked over the weekend. Hackers exploited security weaknesses in Amazon and Apple’s iCloud service to take over his Twitter account and Google account. They used the Twitter account to post all sort of racist and homophobic messages. That’s embarrassing, but it’s also minor compared to what else he went through.

In a nutshell, the hackers were able to disable his iPhone, disable his iPad, and wipe his MacBook. As in erase everything, including the last year or two of photographs of his young daughter. (Foolishly, Mat did not have a backup, and he accepts that if he had one, certain irreplaceable things wouldn’t be probably lost forever.)

If you are at all concerned about having someone take over your digital life, you need to read that article in full. Right. Freakin’. Now. You need to understand just how easy it was for these hackers to bypass the security measures at Amazon and Apple. Once the hackers got through those, everything else was even easier.

Don’t think for a minute that Mat Honan set himself up as a target for hackers. They did it for a very simple reason that had nothing to do with him. You can’t assume that since you’re a “nobody” online that hackers wouldn’t target you.

There are lessons to be learned here:

  • Back up your data. All of it. In multiple places. On my work laptop, I use an external hard drive divided into two partitions. One partition uses Apple’s Time Machine backup. The other partition is a clone of the hard drive that gets updated each night. I also use CrashPlan so I have an off-site backup as well. I figure three layers of backup, with one being off site, is a good level of protection. I duplicate this arrangement with the home laptop. With CrashPlan, I can back up unlimited data from as many computers as I want for one reasonable annual fee. They don’t advertise as much as, say, Carbonite, but I think CrashPlan is the best of the online backup options.
  • Don’t use one email address and one password for everything. I’ve written about passwords before, and if you reuse passwords you’re a fool. I hate to be so blunt and insulting, but it’s a fact. Don’t reuse passwords. Period. Not even once.
  • Use smart passwords.
  • Turn on two-factor authentication on Google accounts. This takes a couple minutes to set up, but basically it requires anyone signing into your Google account to have your password and your phone. When you sign in, you’ll have to also type in a code from your phone.

Mat Honan’s story is an important one to read. I consider myself to be reasonably cautious about my online security practices, but I have to admit it: what happened to Mat scared the hell out of me. I’ve already gone and turned on Google’s two-factor authentication and taken other steps based on what happened to Mat Honan. (Needless to say, “Find my Mac” is now turned off.) We all know people who have skipped simple things and paid a price later. Don’t be one of those who stand amid the wreckage of their digital lives and say, “I should have…”