Creeper, Zombie Mist, Heartbleed, My Doom and Storm Worm. Hmmmm. The latest no-you-can’t-have-those video games? No. The scary movies coming to a theater near you for the Halloween season? Nope. A new series of novels perched on your most endearing introvert’s nightstand? Wrong again.


These are scarier than any Halloween ghoul, more disastrous than any Hollywood B movie and have the potential to annihilate a lot more than any marathon video game session ever could.


These are nasty, freakish and slithering computer viruses. If you’ve been blessed to not go mano a mano with one, consider yourself one of the phantom-like few. Recently, McAfee Labs noted that the much-ballyhooed Heartbleed virus from earlier this year was one of the worst in history: over 600,000 websites were affected, and the estimated carnage runs into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Jeepers! Further back than that, Target Corp. was almost brought to its knees by a nasty infiltration. And even more recently, iCloud vulnerabilities have proven that there’s nothing sacred when it comes to personal pictures online.


Unless you’re a Luddite, disconnected from all things technology, there’s never a way to be 100 percent protected. So, if you want to avoid the ghoulish dark alleys and glowing eyes lurking in the internet bushes, what can you do?


1. Never post sensitive identity data online. It sounds obvious, but we often get caught up in social media and before we know it, we may have put enough information online for Identity Theft to rear its ugly head! Keep your darling digits off the digital landscape.


2. Listen to the experts. Sam Bowling, senior infrastructure engineer with SingleHop, notes that “personal information such as your name, address and age should not be put online.” Oops! Guilty as charged. He further instructs, “make sure that the websites you use have a secure server.” He also emphasizes that “some other information that should not be put online is where you work or attend school.” And finally, he offers this cautionary instruction: “With the growing epidemic of identity theft, cyber bullying and other harmful events, it may be helpful to adjust the privacy settings on your computer and update your antivirus software.”


3. Duck lip selfies? Ugh. If you must. Provocative pics? Sexting? Never! If you wouldn’t want grandma and grandpa to see it, don’t post it. Rest assured that you look amazing without having to post for approval. We’ve learned from some of Hollywood’s most glam: your private pics might be one click away from prime time. That’s a nightmare on Elm Street that would make Freddy and Jason both roll over in their graves…wait, they are dead, aren’t they? If not, you’d rather spend an evening on the run from them than trying to clean up the path of destruction left over from a steamy indiscretion.


4. Backup. Backup. Backup. It may be tedious. It may be a mind-numbing trick when all you want is an ooey-gooey treat, but it’s worth the pain. My best friend called me recently and was lamenting the massive expense that had gone into cleaning a particularly nasty goblin off his Mac—yes, Mac lovers, you heard me right: his Mac. All of us are vulnerable…no matter which side you consider to be the dark side. PC, Mac, Windows, iOS, it just doesn’t matter. We are all vulnerable to the viral zombies and vulnerabilities that lurk the internet. Let’s make sure we keep ourselves backed-up and ready for the eerie experience that is sure to face all of us at some point or another.


Much more could be said, but it’s clear that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to protecting against identity theft, cyber attack and the plague-ridden world of internet viruses. With a few practical insights in place, a few common-sense practices becoming habit and a redoubling of the effort to stay safe online, the full-moon crazies are likely to become a bit less dangerous as you enjoy your digital life.


Richard Singleton, MACE, MAMFC, LPC, is the executive director at STARRY in Round Rock.

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