Get Serious About Internet Security

Get Serious About Internet Security

Get Serious About Internet Security

Get Serious About Internet Security

Internet Security Lock

Using the same password for all your accounts? That’s like leaving your keys in your front door so you never forget where to find them.

A lot has been written about the need for password security. But at the end of each year, there is a flurry of news stories listing the most popular passwords according to some internet security expert. And “PASSWORD” always seems to  top the list. I don’t need to go into the details as to why weak passwords put you, your financial security, your family’s safety, and your job at risk.

A few weeks ago, I received a panicked phone call from a DecemberPress client. He opened his  notebook computer and was greeted with a sinister red and black screen and an equally sinister message. According to the message, which had replaced his home screen, the computer was locked and the data would be deleted if he didn’t pay $400 in BitCoin* to the hacker. As soon as payment was verified, the hacker would unlock the computer, according to the message.

He didn’t pay. Good. Never pay an extortionist.

But he lost all his data.

Ransomware

The extortionist was using a bit of software called “ransomware,” which is the broad category of malicious software which includes “CryptoLocker,” the program installed by the hacker on my client’s computer. There have been numerous verified cases of victims paying the ransom and getting full access to their data. That’s a good outcome. But there is no guarantee that your data, once locked, will ever be unlocked. After all, you’re dealing with criminals and unlocking your data just gives the hacker more exposure to be caught.

Strong Passwords

The best way to fight ransomware (or any type of digital attack) is to prevent it. If you follow three simple steps, your chances of getting hacked drop drastically:

  1. Use strong passwords
  2. Never use one password for more than one login account
  3. Change your passwords regularly

Strong passwords are:

  • at least 15 characters long
  • contain capital and lower-case letters
  • contain numbers
  • contain symbols such as ! ” ? $ ? % ^ & * ( ) _ – + = { [ } ] : ; @ ‘ ~ # | < , > . ? /
  • are not dictionary words
  • do not contain names (people or pets!)
  • do not contain patterns such as “12345” or “XYZ”
  • do not contain keyboard patterns such as “qwerty” or “asdfgh”

I know this sounds like a lot of work. It’s difficult to generate and remember strong passwords without help. Fortunately, there are three tools to make protecting your online accounts easy.

Strong Password Generator (link at bottom of post) is a free and fast tool that generates strong passwords quickly. It’s  a tool that will create password perfection with two clicks. And it’s safe. The program uses a computer language called “Javascript” to generate random passwords. Javascript only exists in your browser – it doesn’t require a web server connection. It doesn’t grab passwords from a remote computer (server) or the cloud. If functions safely on your own local machine.

Google Chrome Password Manager

But what good is a strong password if you can’t remember it?

That’s why I use Google Chrome. Chrome remembers my passwords for me. Now, you may say that all a thief has to do is discover your browser password and they’ll have easy access to all of your files. True. It’s just like someone stealing your front door key. But that doesn’t keep you from using keys (or keeping them all together on a single key ring, which sounds equally dangerous).

If you’re a Google Chrome user like I am, and you have your own private computer, consider letting Chrome remember your passwords for you. Here are the steps:

  1. log into Chrome (if you have a Gmail account, that’s easy)
  2. in the upper right-hand corner of the Chrome browser are three little black horizontal lines (chrome settings). Click there.
  3. scroll to the bottom and click “show advanced settings”
  4. scroll to “offer to save passwords I enter on the web” and check the box

The next time you log into a website with a username and password, Chrome will ask you if you want to save the password.

When you create a new account or log in to an existing account, that’s a good time to generate a strong password. Open the strong password generator tool and generate a new password. Use Chrome to save the password and username by clicking “save this password” when prompted. Boom! No more password-filled sticky notes. You’ve just cleaned your desk and made yourself safer.

Google Two-Step Verification

The second tool to ensure internet security is to enable Two-Step Verification with Google. Remember, if someone has your Google password, they can get every password saved in your account. It’s like stealing the entire keychain. Google’s two-step verification gaurantees that, even if your Google password is discovered by some evil-doer, they can’t get into your account. The first step is, of course, your password. The second step is a auto-generated code created by a free Google smartphone application called “Authenticator” which is available in the iTunes and Android app stores.

You only need Two-Step Verification when you’re logging into an unknown computer, such as at a library or on a public computer (or someone else’s smartphone or computer). When you log into Google on a new device, Google will ask for your Two-Step Verification code, which is generated on your smartphone. You can also print up ten at a time and carry them in your wallet (Don’t Lose The Codes). Each code can only be used once.

Now that Google knows it’s you, you can use any computer you like. Just don’t save passwords to a public computer or a device you don’t control. And don’t lose your personal computer. Always log off and secure your computer with a password of it’s own. That way, if it gets lost or stolen, nobody can access your account.

Links

Strong Password Generator

Google Chrome Password Manager

Google Two-Step Verification

*BitCoin is a digital currency used to make untraceable payments.

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