Computer Security, Part 1: Keeping Your Passwords Safe

With the recent hacking at Yahoo! in the news, there have been plenty of articles surfacing to remind us of the importance of maintaining “good passwords” and internet security protocols on computers. This is a 2-part blog series covering in further detail what that all means for you, and what steps you should be taking to avoid exposing your personal and business data.

We all know that passwords are important, just like locking your house, but in our impatience (and cluttered brains) it sure is a lot easier to type “12345” – just like it is easier to leave the door unlocked when we are just running to the store. Well, while it takes some effort to carry your wide-screen around the corner, there are plenty of hackers hiding in the dark recesses of the internet just waiting for the opportunity to grab people’s information. And they do it every day with disastrous consequences.

The first step in keeping your computer secure is to establish good passwords for all your logins to your computer operating system, applications, and online accounts. You have probably heard that using your child’s name, birthdates, and nicknames is a bad idea, and you should not use the same one for all your various accounts. That leaves us with the dilemma of how in the world to remember numerous, complicated passwords?!

There are three great options for making this password business much easier:

  1. Utilize Passphrases instead of Passwords when possible
  2. Secure them with a Password Manager
  3. Use Dual-Factor Authentication

Passphrases vs. Passwords
While passwords are usually a string of around 10 letters, numbers and/or symbols, a passphrase is longer, can include spaces and runs 14+ characters. Passphrases can contain symbols, and doesn’t have to be a sentence, spelled correctly or grammatically correct. So you can still be sentimental if you choose, or use a song lyric or quote, and have a sign-in that is much more secure and still easy to remember.

Unlike passwords, which hackers have developed programs to crack, it is very difficult to crack a passphrase because of the character length and spacing options. Most sites allow you to use up to 60 characters (gmail: 60; QuickBooks: 32; Office 365: 16). Passphrases are catching on, with all the major OS including Windows, Mac and Linus allowing up to 127 character passphrases to be used, giving you maximum security for these critical systems. Check the Options of your specific software application for individual requirements and setup.

No memorization with a Password Manager
It’s not that unusual to find that someone has been using the same password, on all the sites they log into, for the last 10 years. While this makes an IT pro cringe, it’s just plain hard to remember multiple passwords, and the more complex, the more “forgot password” emailing rounds are necessary. In order to maintain good security, you need to have strong and unique passwords, use different ones for every login, and change them regularly. Don’t panic, all you need is a Password Manager application!

Password Manager software installs as a browser plug-in (meaning it responds automatically when you visit a website requiring a login) to capture and remember your login information for individual websites. It will offer to save your login credentials, many allowing you to organize sites in folders such as Entertainment or Finance, so when you return to that site it automatically will fill in your login credentials. Usually there is a browser toolbar icon so you can go to a convenient menu of your saved sites for even quicker login. Voila – create those necessary complicated passwords, and make any IT person proud with your new security measures!

For a summary of trusted Password Manager applications and a great explanation of use, visit:

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2407168,00.asp

Free Password Manager Applications:

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2475964,00.asp

Use Dual-Factor Authentication
The name is a mouthful, but this common security measure makes good sense for securing your sensitive data contained online at websites such as financial websites, cloud storage, or anywhere your identity details are located.  I use QuickBooks for my business and customer accounting, and I need to be sure I have the strongest security possible.

Like using the ATM where you have your ATM card to identify yourself as well as a private PIN code, Dual-Factor Authentication, requires two steps (factors) for your account access. When logging into an account, the software will require another unique step after username and password that only you know (think, first pet’s name or street you grew up on) or send your cellphone a text message with a one-time code to type in for your second verification. This extra layer of security helps to ensure it is you logging in, and protects your account from hacking software.

To determine if Dual-Factor Authorization is available, go into the Options menu for to see what your security setup options are.

Better Safe than Sorry
Sadly, we have entered the days when a username and simple password no longer protects your identity or financial information. Once a hacker has accessed your computer, your personal and financial information is easy picking, and viruses and ransomware can be planted easily. If going to these extra steps sounds like a pain in the neck, imagine having your identity stolen or your bank accounts wiped out. Imagine what your customers would think if you have to inform them that their personal or financial information has been compromised. Setting up these safeguards and taking a few extra seconds during login is well worth the effort!

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