Passwords: First, best defense against hackers
By Gery L. Deer
GLD Enterprises Communications
It’s safe to say that one necessary component of Twenty-First Century life is a digital presence. People now manage everything from personal photos to bank records online and, with all of that convenience, comes a certain level of risk. Cyber security is at the top of the news these days and there are a multitude of options available to help keep that precious data secure. Some of that security is in the hands of the service providers but the users still need to be proactive in order to protect personal, financial and business information from identity theft, asset loss and prying eyes.
What might come as a surprise to most web surfers is that the individual user may actually hold the most powerful weapon in the war against hackers and, best of all, it’s free! Apart from expensive software to guard against cyber intruders, the most effective defense may be, quite simply, the passwords people use. This goes the same for computer log-ins, email, shopping accounts and any other application where access needs to be restricted to certain users.
Even so, it’s nearly impossible to get some users to understand how important something as simple as a password can be to the security of their home and business information. Hopefully the following information will help more users to better secure themselves against unwanted infiltration. Here are some tips for creating highly secure passwords.
First, consider the length of the password. Most websites and applications require an 8-character password with a maximum length of 16. Computer code is based on ones and zeros in strings of 8 characters so the length is probably a holdover from requirements of past systems in binary.
The maximum length restriction is not always applied, but where it exists, it likely has to do more with storage space for the database of users than anything else. In any case, the longer the password, the more secure it is provided the rest of the following recommendations are applied as well.
Each password should contain at least 2 capital letters, 2 numbers and 1 symbol (non-alphanumeric characters: #,+,(,*, etc.). Some programs and websites may not allow certain symbols, but most do, so it’s worth a try. For example, a password like, “Johns House” could look like, Gon2+Hwz, and it would be very secure and tough to break.
One of the most common mistakes that leave users especially vulnerable is to use a password that creates a complete word, name, anagram or acronym, particularly those that make a completed word. No matter how innocuous it may seem, passwords containing complete words, even spelled backwards, can be hacked by even the most basic password breaker.
It is most advisable to change passwords at a minimum of six month intervals, but the more often the better. New passwords should never be too similar to the previous ones and it’s important never to use the same password for every account.
In addition to secure passwords, establish a proper firewall, maintain antivirus and antimalware software, and keep operating systems and other software up to date. As always, be careful when opening email from unknown senders and be aware of the various accessory software that is often automatically installed when downloading commonly used programs like Adobe Acrobat or Java.
Keep individual computers safe as well as online accounts. Contrary to popular belief, turning the computer off recommended, particularly when traveling with a laptop or tablet. It’s also best to shut down desktop PCs that will be idle or unattended for more than a few hours at a time – or overnight.
When in doubt, disconnect the connection to the internet. Turn off the modem, router or wireless link. When the computer is off, there is no way of accessing the hard drive or connected networks.
Many websites, including the FBI’s cyber security section, offer some great tips on protecting computers from attack. (Link: http://www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/computer_protect) For more on how to best secure your online accounts and to get help creating effective passwords, contact GLD Enterprises Communications today at (937) 902-4857 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.