6 Tips for Safer Passwords

The recent hack attack that compromised nearly 2 million Internet passwords worldwide highlights consumer vulnerability online—and the need for users to get more sophisticated when it comes to security.

Hackers stole nearly 2 million website log-in credentials from Facebook, Gmail, Twitter and other sites, according to the cybersecurity firm Trustwave. One reason for the widespread nature of the hack is that many users are using passwords that are too simple and can be easily guessed.

“The discovery of the breach is yet another example of how truly exposed we are, the lack of urgency people have when it comes to properly protecting their computers, and the dangers that we face every day when we continue to share easily decipherable passwords between our various email, financial services and social networking sites,” says Adam Levin, chairman and co-founder of IDentity Theft 911 and Credit.com.

Cybercriminals count on consumers to make it easier to break into devices and steal personally identifiable information. Trustwave, in the course of its research on the breach, learned that the top five passwords used were 123456, 123456789, 1234, password and 12345.

“Every day, in every way we are all under assault from people who count on our distraction to victimize us,” Levin added. “They invade our computers by way of malware, monitor us, collect our personal information and then use it for their financial gain. It’s time we acknowledge our continuing vulnerability, get more sophisticated security software on our computers, select user names and passwords that do not make it easier to know who we are, monitor our lives more aggressively and find damage control programs that can limit the inevitable fallout from personal compromises and identity theft.”

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A good way to spot identity theft is to monitor your credit, which you can do for free using the Credit Report Card. The tool updates your credit scores monthly, and a significant drop in your score could signal identity theft.

How to Make Your Account Safer

Consumers can protect their online accounts by following these tips.

  1. Reset passwords on all accounts.
  2. Use two-factor authentication. Many sites provide this option, including Gmail, to address the security concerns.
  3. Create strong passwords. These should have at least eight characters, using uppercase and lowercase letters and numbers.
  4. Install the latest security patches on your computer and browser. This prevents hackers from exploiting known weaknesses in your system.
  5. Make sure your computer has antivirus and malware protection.  Most antivirus and malware software programs can detect a malicious email or website link and prevent a botnet from getting installed on your computer.
  6. Use a secure “https” connection. When transmitting confidential information such as a credit card, a Social Security number, name or address, make sure you are using this secure connection to encrypt the confidential information in transit.

Finally, if you suspect that your accounts have been compromised—or that your identity has been stolen—contact one of your providers. Your insurance carrier, bank, credit union or membership organizations may already provide you with identity management services.

Image: iStock

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