While preparing to write Monday's article I was reading about how the New York Times, Twitter, and the Wall Street Journal accounts had been hacked. I started to feel that all too familiar feeling... Times like these make you feel vulnerable. If big name sites and accounts like these can get hacked, how easy is it for us to have our accounts compromised? Well, you'd be surprised how much you can do to safeguard yourself just a little better. Read on...
Your email account is probably one of the most important accounts to keep secure. Normally, most of your other accounts will use this account to contact you. Chances are if a hacker has obtained access to your email account, other accounts are just a simple password reset form, support ticket, or phone call away.
Let's take a look at the easiest thing for hackers to gain access to, the single most important piece of information to keep secure, your password... Passwords, and account security in general, are mainly overlooked until you lose it. For many people, if you lose access to your account, you could be in more trouble than you realize.
Passwords: At minimum, your password should be some variation of both letters and numbers. It shouldn't be a family member's name, your last name, your dog's name, favorite flower, or basically anything that would make sense. It needs to be something that isn't easy for anyone to figure out. Trust me; you'll thank me for this advice in the long run. Try to think of your password as the keys to your car. If someone gets them, they'll be driving away with some of your most sensitive information, or even worse, your entire online presence. Here are a few ways, besides a strong password, in which you can better secure your online car keys :)
Use Encrypted Connections: When you are signing in to your mail account, make sure to look for the little lock icon in the address bar, meaning a secure connection is being offered, using a protocol called SSL. This is also a feature you can use from your phone or portable device when checking your mail via POP or IMAP.
Use Two-Step Authentication: Most email providers are allowing for this extra security measure. After turning this feature on in your settings panel, you'll be prompted with a text message on your cell phone containing a one-time code for access to your account. You are able to add "trusted computers" which would allow frequently used devices to access your account after a single sign-on. This is perfect for folks that routinely access their email from public places.
Password Retrieval Questions: Use strong ones! Nothing that would be publicly available, and you'd be very surprised at what is public available. So, again, no family names, etc... Even better, make up a question and write in your own answer. Just don't forget it, or you'll make it hard for even you to access your account. :)
Setup SMS Alerts: Some email providers will allow you to setup text messaging as a method of communication. This way if someone tries to reset your password, the request will be sent to your cell phone instead of the bad guy.
Secondary Email Address: Make sure to setup and update the secondary email contact information for your account. This will be an additional point of contact used by your email provider should something need to be done with your account. Make sure that account has a good password as well.
Other Accounts: Don't use the same passwords for all of your accounts. Amazon, iTunes, online banking, and other accounts need to have different passwords. Get yourself familiar with a few strong passwords and make sure you have a recovery plan should your account become inaccessible.
Don't believe me? Think these steps are too tough or restrictive? Take a look at this article from Wired Journalist, Matt Horan: http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2012/08/apple-amazon-mat-honan-hacking/
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Bob Johnson is the Manager of Information and Technology Services at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library.