Oct 082012
 
how to protect your computer and social media data with strong passwords

Every Internet user has to struggle with the burden of passwords as we’re expected to remember dozens of log in details for various websites and computer networks.

As we’re seeing though, passwords aren’t that effective with universities and private companies being hacked on a regular basis. The problem is so bad banks are considering moving to fingerprints to replace PIN and password logins.

Even if passwords are going to become irrelevant as we move to biometric logins like fingerprints and iris scans they aren’t going away quickly, so how do we protect our important online accounts?

Use different passwords

One of the key ways to protect yourself is not to use the same passwords for every site. Some critical sites, like your online banking and email, need protecting with strong passwords while others like social media sites don’t require such tough security.

As we’ve seen with various security breaches, most notably the continual Sony hacks of 2011 and the deeply embarrassing Stratfor leaks, even the strongest passwords are useless if some dill leaves them on an unprotected server.

Use strong passwords

For the sites that matter, make sure the passwords are strong. You’ll find how to make memorable, easy to use and strong passwords on the Netsmarts site.

You don’t need to use strong passwords on every site, for some websites that require registration to access you might want to fall back on the much maligned password or 12345 for those publications.

Change default passwords

Most of the hacks on university and corporate networks happen because the default passwords on servers aren’t changed. This was also how News International workers broke into British mobile phone message banks.  When you get a new phone or tablet computer, make sure you change the basic passwords that have come with the device and any associated service.

Update your systems

One of the biggest vulnerabilities for home and business computer systems is unpatched systems. Malicious websites, viruses and various tricks use known weaknesses in computer systems to bypass security measures. This applies to Apple Mac users as well.

Consider two factor authentication

Two factor authentication involves having double security, this could be a password linked to a SMS or a special one-off code. Services like Gmail offer this as do many corporate networks and banks.

Be careful linking social media services

A bigger risk than hackers is phishing where someone tricks you into giving away your password. This has become very common in hijacking social media accounts.

If you’ve linked various social media services together then one being compromised can mean bad guys have access to all of your accounts, so be cautious about what applications you allow to connect with your Facebook page or Twitter account.

For businesses

Cyber security is critical for business, it’s been estimated that one in six companies who’ve been compromised will fail as a result of the breach and a credit card lapse can be expensive as well as embarrassing.

The Australian government’s Defense Signals Directorate has an excellent guide to securing computer networks. The DSD’s research shows that just following four basic rules will prevent 85% of attacks.

We should also keep in mind no security system is perfect. Just as your car doors or home can be broken into by a determined thief, the same is also true with computer networks, a skilled operator with enough time and resources can beat even the toughest cyber security regime.

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