Friday, October 17, 2014

The benefits and dangers of technology

As a pastor starting out in 1981 my prize piece of technology was a used Underwood upright typewriter.  It was approximately the same weight as an aircraft carrier anchor and about as easy to move.  That typewriter typed out a lot of sermon notes, church newsletters, and papers when I enrolled in Bible school.  Those were the "good-old-days" of carbon paper and White-Out.

In the late 80s I replaced the typewriter with a word processor.  It was a huge step up even if it did only display two lines of work at a time.  About this same time, I was introduced to computers at the job I had in the factory.  My employer even offered computer classes.  My first class was to learn DOS,  That wasn't the most exciting class I've ever taken, but that one was followed by several classes on Microsoft Office.  I soon purchased my first computer, Office, and a dot-matrix printer.  (To install Office in those days required about 20 floppy disks, about one full day, and an immediate upgrade to install more memory on my computer!)  Since those early beginnings I've owned a few dozen computers, printers, and other electronic devices all intended to make work easier.  But does it really?

Last night I was up until 1:00 am trying to find and remove a virus that kept changing my home page.  Despite having firewalls and a virus detector this one found a way to sneak into my computer.  What makes it more frustrating is that a Google search revealed that this particular bug is often found after downloading programs from some rather popular sites, and I had downloaded a program from one of those sites just the day before realizing I had a bug.  The program was a spyware detector that I have used in the past!  Earlier this year I had to take both my desktop and laptop to my computer guru to remove a virus that I couldn't find.  As good as he is, it took him two days to find it as it had buried itself deep into my systems on both machines.  To this day, we do not know how they got into my systems.

Hacking is another problem for those of us who depend on our computers a lot.  Many ministers now take advantage of free wi-fi offered many places to do their work outside the church office making their computers even more at risk.  I don't blame them for that.  If our community had a Starbucks or Panera Bread I would probably make that my second office.  Still, the danger of someone hacking into your computer while it's connected to free wi-fi is very real in such places, and one must exercise great caution.  My ministry requires me to travel some, and one of the first things I do when I get to my motel room is to connect to their wi-fi to make sure I've got a connection.  To protect myself there are a couple of things I do.

One, is that I do not stay connected other than when I'm actually working on the computer.  Some people will connect and leave their computers on.  I will go online, do what I need to do, and shut down the computer.  At least that limits the amount of time a potential hacker can access my computer.

A second thing I do is that I never do financial transactions on my laptop.  A hacker will not find credit card numbers, bank accounts, or other personal financial information on my laptop.  Since it is for work I have been determined that I would not use it for personal business to ensure that information cannot be obtained from it while I'm traveling.

A third thing I do is to change my passwords periodically, and I try to use strong passwords.  1234 is not a strong password.  Neither is your name.  I recently saw a used computer being sold at an auction.  When the computer was turned on it showed that it was locked.  The user name was on the screen and was the first name of the previous owner.  No one knew the password to open the computer, but a high school student sat down and typed in the person's last name as the password, and the computer opened.  Who knows what personal files or information the buyer might find!  Be smart and use strong passwords that can't be broken in five seconds.

Computers and other technologies can be a great asset to a minister, but, unfortunately, they can also cause problems.  Identity theft is a major problem today, and there is no way to completely protect yourself from hackers.  There also doesn't seem to be any way to completely prevent viruses from getting into your computer system.  We just need to be smart and proactive.  Have good virus detectors on your computer and have them automatically scan your computer on a regular basis.  it's also a good idea for you to run a scan manually once a week.  Change your passwords and use passwords that are not obvious.  Be very careful about how you use public wi-fi.

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