Recently a friend told me their colleague’s email had been hacked, or compromised. It seems every week there are news stories of this website or that being hacked and emails compromised. Now, no website or digital file is totally secure. A skilled hacker can bypass even government secured databases as you’ve no doubt read in the news. In recent months passwords for such sites as Yahoo! Voice, AOL, E-Harmony, Gawker, Formspring, Plenty of Fish, and Linkedin have been compromised.
Now, let me share a little bad news. You can do everything right and the determined and skilled hacker will find a way in, just as securing the doors and windows to your home won’t keep the most determined burglar out. However, taking a few modest precautions with your digital life can prevent the majority of intrusions and losses. Most hackers are looking for low hanging fruit, just as most burglars are looking for homes or cars that are quick and easy to rob.
First and foremost, secure your computer with a good anti-virus product. A good number of passwords and data are lost through malware installed on a computer through programs you might have inadvertently installed by opening an email or clicking a link. Programs like key loggers are small and easy to load and phone home (wherever home is) easily. What might you think if you saw a 16 digit number come across your screen, followed by a 4 digit number and then a 3 or 4 digit number, but a credit card complete with security code.
I can hear a few of you smugly saying out loud you are immune as you have an Apple computer. Don’t laugh too fast there Skippy. Attacks on Apple’s OSX are on the rise. As I mentioned earlier, thieves and hackers like going for the low hanging fruit, just as in business we too try to get the easy sales first. Apple PC’s were pretty much immune back in the day when they represented a paltry 6 or 7% of all personal computers. Today, Apple has a much larger share of the market and even Apple has dropped the “We Don’t PC viruses” claim from their website as over 600,000 Macs were infected with a malicious Trojan recently.
Back to passwords now. First and foremost, stay away from the popular passwords. Believe it or not, here is a list of the top passwords from 2011:
Sort of like leaving the combination to your new luggage at 0000, no?
Pick long passwords….the longer the better. There are almost one quintillion possible 10-character password combinations. That’s 4,000 times as many possibilities than if your password has 8 characters. Use more than one password. Many people use the same password for their computer and every website they join. Get that one password and a hacker has a passport to your entire digital world.
Try using a phrase only you know. One idea is to think of a phrase that only you know, and that relates to that particular website to help you remember. For your email you could start with “My friend Tom sends me a funny email once a day” and then use numbers and letters to recreate it. “MfTsmafe1ad” is a password with lots of variations. Then repeat this process for other sites. A friend of mine uses a Windows Product Key from ages ago. That is unique 25 alpha-numeric code that would take most any brute force cracker over a million years to break, so we think he is pretty safe.
If you must write your passwords down, keep them far away from your computer. I had a client once who kept his list of passwords under his keyboard. A colleague from years ago kept his pasted to the side of his computer with a refrigerator magnet…a no no on so many levels. What’s the point of even having a password if anyone and everyone has access to your life?
Lastly, change your passwords periodically. Nothing wrong with being cautious and taking the initiative. Just as we have written in the past about looking at your practice with fresh eyes occasionally, take a few minutes to take a fresh look at your digital life as well. Those precautions can help save you a lot of headaches down the road. Want to test your passwords? Try this website. http://howsecureismypassword.net
Daniel Feldman, is a co-founder to the Visionaries Group visionariesgroup.com (on Facebook) and CEO of dba Communications dbadesigns.com, (on Facebook) a web design and social media firm specializing in helping eye care practices achieve success.