Pub Rants

Because It Really Could Happen To You—Guest Blogger Sarah Rees Brennan

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STATUS: Running out the door in about 30 minutes for all-day meetings. If I had been smart, I would have taken a day or two off right after BEA. Make note for next time….

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BEAUTIFUL DAY by U2

As authors (and even as agents), we aren’t always up on the latest technology so let this be a reminder to always have a backup system in place—even for things you didn’t think needed backing up.

The sad part of this story is that the attack on Sarah Rees Brennan’s live journal and her email account was obviously a deliberate one. We can only assume it was meant to sabotage her release day as Sarah Rees has a large online following and there are a lot of great things tied into her internet presence for her release day.

The good news is that she foiled her saboteur. With the help of a lot of good friends, supporters, and fellow generous writers, Sarah is good to go today–her official release day for her debut YA—THE DEMON’S LEXICON.

Congrats Sarah!

It happened six days before my book came out.

I was in the shower, singing a country music song and blinking coconut-scented bubbles out of my eyes, when I heard my phone ring and scrambled out to answer the phone. It was my friend Bob. ‘Hello, Bob,’ I said in a perplexed way. ‘Aren’t you at work?”

Go to your computer,’ he said. ‘Don’t freak out. I’m going to help you fix this.’

I went to my computer and saw that my blog had been deleted. I’d been writing my blog for seven years, since I was eighteen, and it had a lot of my life recorded in it: the parts dearest to me were the posts announcing my book deal, and all the posts I’d made about the terrifying, wonderful process of publication in the almost two years since then. They were all gone.

Then I tried to get into my email, and discovered that was where the hackers had got in: the thought of malicious strangers being able to go through all of my personal and some fairly crucial business emails had me shaking in my fluffy pink bath towel, but there was just no time to panic: I had to call about a hundred people, starting with my bank, proceeding onward to my website hosts and my friends, all the while being on the phone to report the computer abuse to both livejournal and google.

Thanks to the efforts of my more computer savvy friends, who were basically acting as my ninja team of technology, I got control of my blog and my email back in less than three hours. Unfortunately, that was plenty of time to delete every post I’d ever made on my blog, and every email I’d ever sent or received: emails from a long-distance boyfriend, my first email from my publisher, a million emails from my best friend in the diplomatic service. Not to mention all of my email contacts, which was scary given the whole six days to publication, and all the people I needed to be in contact with whose email addresses I had not memorized.

It still makes me feel a little ill to think of all that, lost. Then my tech ninjas said ‘Sarah… this looks like deliberate malice rather than a regular hack’ and I said sadly that given the timing, I had figured as much.

It was probably just someone who didn’t like my style on my blog, and thought they’d take me down a peg. Holy violation of privacy, Batman! The internet is sometimes a scary place.

Since I was given that object lesson in It Can Happen To You, I collected up some very, very simple tips (I am not a tech ninja, so I can only understand the basics!) on how to safeguard yourself against hackers, and wish to share them with you guys. Especially since I know a lot of you are writers, and I don’t want anyone trying to ruin your big day! So three tips, then.

1. Using your password on public or unsecured wifi is not safe, as it means you’re broadcasting your login data: so if you’re going on holiday or away on business and you’re going to be using public or unsecured internet for some time, change your password before you go and when you come back.

2. Whenever you’re given a link, hover your mouse over it and see where it leads before you go there: just going to a dodgy site can infect your computer, so always regard new sites with a little wariness.

3. And then there are passwords, and how we really do need them to be random, even though it’s so much easier to remember your dog’s or your boyfriend’s name… Not that I’m suggesting those two things are on the same level. I really love my dog! Here’s a great site with tips for creating better passwords.

And if despite your precautions – and I thought I’d taken precautions myself – it happens, well, it happens, and it’s awful, but right after it happened to me my blog readers were collecting up all their saved entries from my blog, and helping me reconstruct it. Lots of people re-sent emails to me that they’d sent me years ago. And one blog reader provided me with some handy tips, much like the ones I’m giving out to you! The internet can be scary sometimes, but it can be great as well.

Even though that day last week was horrible, today is wonderful. My book is out – my very first book, on shelves, where people can read it!

And nobody can delete that.

A stack on the table at the Borders–Penn Station


54 Responses

  1. wellreadrabbit said:

    Sarah, it makes me feel ill just reading this. It sounds like you handled this incredibly well (far better than I can imagine doing so myself) and that you have some wonderful, supportive people around you.

    Thanks for the tips, and I look forward to your next guest post being much more positive (no doubt about how well your book’s doing!)

    Katherine

  2. Yunaleska said:

    I almost couldn’t quite believe what happened to you – that’s simply awful! I’m glad you’ve been able to reconstruct most of it. I think I know what I’ll be doing this weekend.

  3. Liesl Shurtliff said:

    Okay, I don’t have a book coming out, but that scared me enough to take a hard look at my passwords.

    But Hooray! I get to go to Borders and get a book I’ve been looking forward to. That doesn’t happen very often.

  4. csmith said:

    Sarah, it is so great to see you doing this.

    A tip on passwords – if you speak a strange language (or invented one – I could see you doing that) – use that for passwords. Is memorable! 😀

    Best of Luck!

  5. Dawn Maria said:

    In my wildest dreams, I’d never imagine this happening to someone. Thank you for sharing your story and tips. Have a wonderful release day!

  6. David H. Burton said:

    This is scary. I would also suggest that it’s very important to have backups. I run a wordpress blog on my own site with daily backups. My email at home is backed up daily. If you don’t have a second computer at home, look into online storage. I have a home router with security features enabled on wifi, SSL access to management of certain sites, etc. Strong passwords, as suggested, is a must. This can happen to you, and it’s a horrible violation. It’s important that we all take the time to get educated on protecting our work and identities and not wait until something like this happens. I feel for you Sarah. And I’m glad to see you had a calm approach to this. I hope you’re able to get all of it back.

    Best of luck with the book!!
    David

  7. Heather said:

    Yikes! You handled this so well, much better than I probably could have. (Especially since I don’t have any savvy tech ninjas to rely on…) I’m definitely going to be utilizing all your tips.

  8. Tara Maya said:

    There are real scum roaming the universe. I’m glad you were able to get back on line but I am sorry for your loss. I can just imagine how I would feel if the same thing happened to me.

  9. spyscribbler said:

    Wow, that’s freaky! And terribly sad. I’m so sorry for your loss! It always shocks me how mean people can be, sometimes.

    Good luck with your release, Sarah! GREAT cover!

  10. Cat Moleski said:

    Congratulations on your release day and thank you for sharing your story. What a terrible experience. I have been very lax with my passwords and I dread changing them, but your cautionary tale has made me rethink my behavior. Thanks again, and good luck with your book.

  11. Tiffany James said:

    Sara,

    I just want to wish you the most amazing success with your release today! I’d also like to commend the grace with which you handled your hacking. I lost my hard drive several months ago (to my own stupidity and laziness) and didn’t handle it well at all (screaming and crying from a thirty+ year old is NOT pretty), and I didn’t even have anyone else to blame!

    Can’t wait to get my hands on THE DEMON’S LEXICON!

    Tiffany

  12. Carolyn said:

    I’m so sorry this happened to you! And very glad to know you had friends who helped you, too.

    Congratulations on your release. I’ve enjoyed reading about your sale.

  13. Tricia J. O'Brien said:

    Sarah,
    Your calm and grace amaze me. They’d have to peel me off the floor if it happened to me.
    But I shouldn’t be surprised, having read your blog for awhile. What has always made it a good-read is your vibrant writing combined with an open heart. Your spirit just radiates, and you’re dang funny besides.
    I had the extreme good fortune to get to read an ARC of The Demon’s Lexicon, and I absolutely love it. Captured me from the first page and ended with a twist I never saw coming.
    I urge everybody to support this debut book. She’s more than earned it.
    Wishing you a most happy release day!

  14. Melanie Avila said:

    I’m so glad you had friends to help you recover some of what you lost. How scary and sad!

    Question: how exactly does one back up a blogger blog?

  15. J.M. said:

    Sarah,

    Double Wow.

    I can only imagine how freaked you must have been during this period of chaos! But you know something, even though this is not my typical style of reading, I am going to buy your book [PERIOD]

    This experience may have been crazy for you, but I’ll bet it just might boost your sales! People are going to hear about this situation, you, and your work of art, and they are going to make a trip to the bookstore!

    Congrats!

    J.M.

  16. Anonymous said:

    I’m sorry you had to go through that. Sometimes I just don’t understand people. I’m glad you had so many people to help you and that you are enjoying your first release day! Best of luck to you and congratulations on the new book.

    -Shannon

  17. Nat said:

    Wow, that’s terrible. I’ve visited your blog and it was so well done. It’s just sick that all that work could be gone.

    But you’ve inspired me to change all my passwords and buy your book-so that’s something. Happy release day!

  18. ryan field said:

    Thanks for this blog post. I’m saving and doing everything you suggested. Starting with changing passwords. I back up everything at least three times, but this sounds horrible.

  19. Samantha Clark said:

    Wow! That’s awful. And so much worse that someone would do that on purpose. Well done for getting everything back up and running. It sounds like you have wonderful readers, friends and colleagues as they had saved your emails and blog posts. And you’re right, no one can delete your book. Congratulations on your debut release.

  20. Lauren said:

    That’s a very scary thing. I’m glad you were able to get most of it set straight!

    I’m a big fan of running Firefox with the noscript addon. It takes a little bit of self-training (remembering to click the icon in the bottom right when you visit new sites), but it keeps malicious scripts from running on webpages and stealing your info. I’ve had at least one virus scare using IE when a website’s banner ad contained a bit of malicious code. My virus scanner freaked out and quarantined it early enough, but that was the last time I used IE.

    Also, I don’t know if you use gmail or not, but there’s a spot at the bottom of the general settings tab where you can require gmail to always use the https setting, which is more secure.

    Best of luck on the new book!

  21. Sherry Thomas said:

    Sarah,

    So sorry about what happened to you. And so glad you have all your friends to help you.

    I’m going to pick up a copy of your book for my son.

  22. Keren David said:

    Sarah – what a hideous thing to happen. I’ve just gone online and ordered your book in solidarity – and because it sounds great. Much prefer the UK cover to the US one by the way – isn’t it funny how tastes differ either side of the Atlantic?

  23. joanne kennedy said:

    What a shame that people could be so mean-spirited – especially when you’ve given us such a terrific gift in “The Demon’s Lexicon.” I’m almost finished (I started it last night, and was up late late late!), and it is amazing – I’m almost ashamed of how much I, a grown woman, adore Nick. I’ll be the first to say it — HOTTER THAN EDWARD CALLEN.
    Here at the bookstore in Cheyenne, three of us are reading it and looking forward to handselling it to customers!

  24. Carrie Ryan said:

    Happy release day Sarah! I’ve been so excited about this since I first read about it here!

    Another tip for web security — beware memes that ask you to come up with your weirdo name (like the one that says your porn name is your first pet + first street you lived on) and whatnot — remember that most password prompts ask the same things as their security questions!

  25. Chris Scena said:

    Sarah (and Kristen),

    A giant turd sandwich on the d-bag (s) who did this to you. I hope you have the last laugh all the way to the bestseller lists.

  26. TeenyGozer said:

    I’m waiting for Amazon to deliver your book, having pre-ordered what seems like a year ago, but I have to admit… I ADORE THAT JAPANESE COVER!!! What a pity we can’t mix-and-match, I’d choose British copy with Japanese cover.

    These are really quite useful online safety tips: my husband and I use our favorite literary and TV characters from our childhood as passwords; hard for us to forget, hard for anyone else to guess!

    But please note, I first read about your travails on your LJ, and you had another useful warning there that potentially saved me: I checked my profile for email addresses my own LJ was associated with, and there it was! A defunct hotmail address from about 10 years back, waiting for someone else to re-activate using their own passwords, to use to gain control of my LJ! Since I know there are a couple of people out there who wouldn’t be averse to a little malicious messing with me, I have to thank you for that particular alert.

    Best of luck, I’m sure your book will be enormously popular!

  27. Welshcake said:

    That’s really horrible, Sarah. I’m glad you managed to rescue parts of your blog and thanks for the tips.

    Congratulations on release day! May it sell a zillion copies.I can’t wait to read it.

  28. Amber Argyle-Smith said:

    I’m so sorry that happened to you. Something similiar, though not as catastrophic happened to me a few weeks ago. It doesn’t benefit the other person. It’s just hurting someone to hurt them. IMO, that’s worse than stealing (at least when they’re stealing, they’re benefiting).

  29. Anonymous said:

    Um, if there are messages you want to have forever in your email and blog accounts, why don’t you have them stored on a backup drive?!

    It always amazes me how little the average person really understands computers. they think that because it’s “their” account that they “have” the data. Not true! When you “login” to your accouont, what are you doing? Accessing SOMEONE ELSE’S computer! Not yours! Someone else’s! They’ve got YOUR stuff, and basically are giving you PERMISSION to access it.

    If you want to be assured of having access to it prepetually, then YOU have to download it to a drive that you OWN, not one that you depend on someone else to let you use. (gmail, hotmail, aol mail, blogger–this is all of you! You don’t have your stuff–those companies do!)

    That’s why the hype over cloud computing” makes me laugh.

    We won’t need our own hard drives anymore! Oh really? So you want to always depend on somone else for your stuff, and if they go outta business your stuff is gone? if your i-net conneciton goes out, then you can’t access your stuff…sound good? Not to me.

    If I want it, it’s on at least 1 drive that I OWN.

    Wake up, people.

    As writers, aren’t you supposed to be smart? This is dumb!

  30. Anonymous said:

    LOl anon–yeah, good point.

    I remember when I first realized that computers are fallible machines that break down, get hacked–basically the realization that a computer disc is an ephemeral thing–it’s not a matter of IF it will die on you, but WHEN.

    HEre’s the smart way to think of computers;

    Your data on computers is analagous to polar bears on ice floes. The bear must always have ice floes to hang out on, or it will die. However, ice floes are not permanent–they melt, flip over, break apart, asometimes other bears will push you off your own ice floe.

    So think of your data as that polar bear on the ice floe of your hard drive. You know it’s going to melt, so it makes sense to have any files you care about ALWAYS in more than 1 place. More than 1 place means not only in the online account you have, as the above anon pointed out, but also on some kind of HDD that you will always have access to.

    Think about home firs too. You wake up at 3am and your place is in flames. All your data is backed up…on your PC! No time to carry it out…bummer, there goes all your novels, ideas, promotional accounts info, etc.

    Have an externall HDD in a safe deposit box at the bank which you back up every couple of months, so that worse comes to worse, you have your years of work (and maybe family photos, vids).

    Good luck. Remember, a lot of these young kids, although they USE computers a lot, they haven’ yet experienced their first hardware failures, so don’t know how to handle data, or manage daata life cycles.

  31. Anonymous said:

    “my husband and I use our favorite literary and TV characters from our childhood as passwords; hard for us to forget, hard for anyone else to guess!”

    this commenter also demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding about password secruity.

    Although the most rudimentary level of hacking might involve someone trying to guess your password, in reality hackers emply programs which rapidly generate random character strings until a match is made. They start with the dictionary , phone books and random number generators (for those using pw’s made only up of numbers).. Therefore, any english language word or name is a terrible choice of password, because these are the first things to come up.

    Secure passwords need to be a combo of letters and numbers, never only letters or only numbers. If special characters are allowed (ie [email protected]?/) then make use of those too.

    Also, pw’s should be changed frequently.

    A good ps looks somehting liek this:

    tiw57pomnnaaBC!

    Impossible to remember, you say? Not if it’s an acronym for

    Today I wrote 57 pages of my new novel about a Big Cat!

  32. PRNewland said:

    Congratulations!

    It must be wonderful to finally have your book out there in stores. 🙂

    Sorry to hear that you were hacked. We had a burglary years ago, and the sense of violation is hard to shake for a while. You’ll get there though. Your safety tips are very good. Some of the commenters are very wise as well.

  33. Elissa M said:

    The Demon’s Lexicon is not my normal style of reading material. I shall now go out and buy it, because that seems like the best way to get back at nasty hackers who want to foul up an author’s book release.

    Many thanks for the good security advice, especially in some of the comments about passwords. I like to use acronyms, too, such as inrtDpw!

  34. Savannah Chase said:

    I’m truly sad to see this happen. How can somebody do this to another person…It is so wrong…I’m so sorry you had to deal with all of this, it is just so so very wrong.

  35. Marilynn Byerly said:

    Google and many of the search engines have archives of sites. Go to Google ASAP before it is overwritten with the replacement,, type in the name of your blog.

    In the correct search results, click on “archives,” and you may be surprised to find the whole thing available.

    You may be able to download the whole blog archives to your hard drive if you have the right software. If you don’t have the software, maybe one of your friends does.

    If the site has been overwritten, the individual blog posts might not have been so you may be able to find them archived by using various search terms.

    Most sites and information on the Internet never die, even those we’d as soon disappear.

    To the other advice, I’d add get a Mac and use the Mac OS which is nearly impossible to hack.

  36. Marilynn Byerly said:

    The term used in Google is “cached,” not “archived.” A few other search engines use “archived,” though.

    I just followed my advice and found your blog’s cached contents. I went no further back than 40 entries, but all of those were there.

    Hope you can copy all the contents.

  37. Tabitha said:

    Sarah,

    Oh no!! That’s *horrible*!! I’m glad you’ve managed to recover at least some of the things you’ve lost. I can’t imagine how violated you must be feeling.

    I guess the silver lining is that a story like this will only boost your popularity and earn you sympathy points that I’m sure the hacker didn’t count on. So phooey on him! 🙂

    Happy release day!!

  38. magolla said:

    Wow, I can’t believe how malicious some people can be. That is just nuts. I’m so sorry, and I’m glad your friends rallied around.
    Hope you had a Happy Release Day in spite of this.

  39. JStantonChandler said:

    First off, let me say how sorry I am that this happened to you, Sarah. What an awful, ugly thing for someone to do! That being said, kudos to you for handling it the way you did. And what a wonderful friend to call you and help you through it all.
    Thank you so much for posting these pointers about internet safety. Never in my wildest dreams had I thought that someone would attack a writer through deleting their blog and email account? There are some sick, sad people in this world.
    Congratulations on your first book! You have got to be bouncing off the walls. I know I would be!! Enjoy your success!

  40. Dawn said:

    How upsetting. I’m so glad you had friends and followers to help you restore so much of your work. Congratulations on the book. It looks fantastic in that bookstore.

  41. Jessica said:

    I hope they find out who did that to you. How horrible!
    Thank you for the tips. I didn’t know that about wifi on unsecured networks. *shudder*

  42. susiej said:

    I can never understand how people get a kick out of messing up the lives of others- they must be really sad, messed up people.

    On the bright side, how lucky you are to have such a terrific circle of savvy friends.

    Best Wishes for your release.

  43. Mariana said:

    First of all, congrats for your release day!

    Anyway, regarding what happened to you, it seems like someone over-religious could have resented your book’s title, and probably the content too.

    I’m just wondering, though.

  44. Anonymous said:

    As bad as I feel for the author, this is a simple (and all–too-common) case of If You Want to Keep It, Back it up!

  45. worldofhiglet said:

    🙁 That’s a terrible thing to happen to you just when you are about to release your book. I’m glad you managed to get control of your online presence quickly.

    Best of luck with your book and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment (and I hope you now have a plan for keeping things backed up!).