Keep online hackers at bay

The news is full of stories about hackers accessing email, data, and social media accounts. Victims range from former President Bush to The Washington Post.

How can you protect yourself? Here are a few tips:

Be creative
A surprising number of people use “Password” as their password. Or 123456. Look for a password that’s difficult to guess. Other obvious choices to avoid: names of kids or pets, birthdays, and anniversaries.

“Keeping strong passwords and changing them routinely is a personal responsibility,” says veteran Systems Administrator Joe Donahue. “I recommend setting up a calendar appointment to remind you and your family to change your passwords, or change your personal passwords when you change your work password.”

Go long
Longer passwords are better than shorter. And mix in upper and lower case letters, as well as number and symbols. You could also consider a phrase. For example, IWG2E&S$ could represent “I Will Go To Europe And Spend Money.” Silly, yes, but a good way to remember a complex password.

Twice as nice  
Some providers, such as Gmail, let you create a two-password system. After you enter your first password, you’ll receive a text on your cellphone with a second password. It’s a good added layer of security, and takes only seconds. You can set up your home computer to skip the step.

No double dipping
Donahue recommends a separate password for your online banking account.”NEVER use the same login and password that you use for any other site,” he says. “This is your most valuable data and you don’t want a compromise of security on Twitter or iTunes to allow access to your financial data.”

Get help
How do you remember so many passwords? Donahue suggests a password manager, such as LastPass. “They encrypt and store your passwords to your local PC, and allow you to easily have a different login and password to every site you use.”

Use protection
Install a good security package that protects you from viruses, malware, and other bad stuff. And keep it updated. Like a password, it may not be full-proof, but it’s a lot better than going au natural.

Look for the “S”
Placing an order online? Make sure the URL of the website begins with https (vs. http). The “s” at the end lets you know the site is secure.

Who is that?
Think twice before opening an email from an unknown sender.

Beware of imitations
You’ve received an email that appears to be from your bank. It’s tough to tell if a message is legitimate or a well-done fake, and experts advise against clicking on any links in the message. Thieves can easily copy the look of a site, and are waiting for you to enter personal information. If you receive an email from your bank, investment firm, etc. asking for you to take an action, call your local branch for confirmation.

Think twice
You receive an email that a friend was robbed while vacationing in Mexico and needs money to return home. Being a good person, you wire the money, then learn he never sent the message. It’s an old trick, but one that still works.

Shut down
Turn off your computer when not in use. A report on Today showed how people can hack into your computer’s webcam to spy on you.

Additional reading
Ten Tips For Protecting Your Computer From Hackers And Viruses – Western Carolina University

5 Ways To Avoid Being Hacked National Public Radio

Smartphone cyberattacks to grow this year – CNN-Money

Is Mobile banking really safe – CNN-Money

Scams & Safety: How to protect your computer – FBI

Kill the Password: Why a String of Characters Can’t Protect Us Anymore – Wired

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