A security update from the My Neighborhood News Network

It’s no secret that computer hacking is a serious problem. We’ve all read the stories about websites, political parties and the U.S. government having been hacked. Vulnerabilities in the software that we use on our computers, phones an tablets have had serious repercussions for our economy, our privacy and our national security. It’s a problem that isn’t going away anytime soon.

We’ve put together some information on the security issues that the My Neighborhood News Network family of websites — My Edmonds News, Lynnwood Today and MLTnews — faces and added some tips to help keep you safer when you’re cruising the Internet.

Why can’t people who make these programs find a way to keep the hackers out?

  • The skills it takes to write computer software are different from the skills it takes to break into that software. It’s often easier to break than it is to create, hackers break computers.
  • Hacking isn’t one person feverishly typing away on their keyboard trying to break into a network as portrayed in movies and on TV. Hacking is a sophisticated business, sometimes run by governments.
  • Hackers use networks of compromised computers known as botnets.
  • Teams of hackers write attacks and then use thousands (or millions) of bots to attack other computers and networks around the world.

Why should a news site focused on three cities in South Snohomish County worry about hackers?

  • It doesn’t really matter where the server is or what the topic of the site is — the hackers want the computing power behind the site. Any website large or small can be a target.
  • Hackers infect a server and that allows them to run programs on the infected server.
  • Often they use that server to send out emails with spam, scam offers or viruses attached.
  • Compromised computers can be added to the botnet or assigned other tasks.
  • In the case of major companies, a compromised server or network may reveal personal information to the hackers, allowing them to target specific people or give them credit card numbers.

How often are My Neighborhood News Network sites attacked?

  • Today, just one of our three sites received 19,687 attacks.
  • The same site was attacked 69,646 in the past week and 326,541 times over the past 30 days.
  • Most of the hacking attempts come from a few countries. They are the same ones you see in the news and a few you don’t.

What is My Neighborhood News Network’s setup and what are you doing to protect your websites

  • My Neighborhood News Network doesn’t store your email or credit card information on our servers.
  • Our news emails are sent by MailChimp. MailChimp is used by more than 15 million people and business around the world. Click here if you’d like to more about their security.
  • When you subscribe to your local news site, you are transferred to PayPal. PayPal is the standard in web payments and is one of the most trusted names in Internet payment processing. Your credit card information is never seen by us or stored on our servers.
  • My Neighborhood News Network runs open source software called WordPress. WordPress is used by millions of people from bloggers to Fortune 500 companies. WordPress is very secure, if set up properly.
  • WordPress is easy to set up and easy to use; you don’t need to be a computer expert to use it. That also means its programming is complex and that can lead to vulnerabilities.
  • We also run several WordPress extensions called plugins. We use plugins for tasks like signing up for our email news update, showing you our local advertising, and keeping the site tidy and easy to use for our reporters and editors.
  • One of our plugins is a firewall software security program. This firewall keeps out those people we don’t want to gain access to our site and lets us know when we are under attack. It’s linked to the company that sells it, and they send real time updates to combat new attacks as they happen around the world.
  • We keep our all our software programs as up to date as possible and our firewall keeps tabs on our site to make sure it is secure. If it spots anything, it immediately sends an email to our support staff.
  • We have an expert who monitors our security for the site and is responsible for making sure the site is as safe as it can possibly be.
  • My Neighborhood News Network has blocked most foreign countries from accessing our website. Most of the attacks against our sites come from outside the U.S., and the easiest way to stop these attacks is by blocking the country they come from.
  • We allow all of North America and some foreign countries access to the website.

We are working on a way to better handle real human visitors from foreign countries, while still being able to block the bad guys. We should have that set up soon. But we know our readers travel and like to monitor local news wherever they are. If you’re headed out of the U.S. and don’t want to miss out on news back home, drop us an email, and we will see what we can do to make sure you get your news.

What can I do to improve my security?

Hackers go after the easiest targets. By taking a few basic steps, you can make yourself less of a target.

  • Increase your password strength. You may be surprised to hear this, but some of the most common passwords found in a survey last year were “123456,” “qwerty” and “Password.”
  • Don’t use family names, pet names, common phrases or words, or common misspellings. You can search out common passwords on the web and see what to avoid.
  • Try using a set of three or four words that are easy to remember for you, like a phrase or nursery rhyme.
  • If you want to use one word, put in at least one number and one punctuation mark, and make it at least 8 characters long — longer is better.
  • Don’t use the same password for everything. Ideally, you would have one password per site. Most modern browsers allow you to save passwords to assist with this.
  • If you don’t want to store your passwords in your browser, then try using three or four passwords — one for social media. one for shopping, one for banking and another for medical websites.
  • Consider purchasing a password manager for your computers, phones and tablets. Most of these will synchronize your passwords between devices and even among family members. They include password generators that will create tough passwords and remember all of them for you. Each site can have its own strong unique password, and the passwords are locked away safely and encrypted.
  • Avoid public Wi-Fi if possible. When you stop by your local coffee shop and open your phone or laptop, you are essentially letting anyone who chooses to see everything you are doing. Anything you type into your computer is up for grabs to anyone in the shop or anywhere nearby with the correct software.
  • If you must use public Wi-Fi, don’t type in any usernames or passwords and never buy anything with your credit card. Everything you look at and type will still be visible but at least hackers won’t get your personal info.
  • Never give out your password to anyone who calls you or emails you. They are trying to scam you.
  • Software and social media companies will not call you on the phone to tell you that you have a virus; these are scams. Major companies will only contact once you have contacted them, and they will send you a case number so you can verify that the email is authentic.
  • Apply ALL updates to your computer, phone or tablet. All software companies are working hard to combat this problem, but you must update to take advantage of their work. Preferably, set updates so that they are automatic. As a matter of fact, Windows 10 has auto updates on by default, and you can’t turn it off unless you are a business customer.

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