With the great number of online transactions that are being executed on a daily basis, it is of the utmost importance to have the safest password possible. Passwords that are easily found out run the risk of making personal information available to people who might have criminal intentions. That no one is safe from security breeches has been made clear when the Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin’s email account was accessed by a third party. If it can happen to politicians, it can happen to any of us.
Sophos, a company that specializes in online security, conducts studies concerning popular internet behavior on a regular basis. What they have found out in their most recent research is that a third of web users recycle one password for many different sites. Only a small percentage of people on the Internet, namely 19 percent, are aware that using the same password twice could put them at a serious risk. Sophos also states that compared to previous years these numbers have not improved much. Not even ten percent of Internet users have changes their routine when it comes to using passwords. Graham Clueley, one of Sophos’ security consultants, is bewildered by the fact that so few users have learned anything when it comes to internet security. He does not understand why people would use the same weak passwords over and over again. He is also worried that people who are not aware of the importance of strong passwords might use the same passwords for social applications like Facebook and Twitter as well as for highly private use like online shopping or, even worse, online banking. Obviously having your Facebook account compromised, although annoying, is not really the end of the world. If this leads fraudster to access a bank account, however, it is a completely different matter. Just the thought of scenarios like this should make people reconsider and maybe change a few passwords in the future.
The temptation to create passwords that are easy to remember, and therefore mostly weak, is high considering the many application that need passwords these days. However, it pays to make passwords unique and safe and not just a word out of everyday language, or even a name. A password manager can help people store all of their very important data in a program which then minimizes the need to remember passwords to only having to know the password for the manager. A password manager can store password information but also other private data like credit card numbers, social insurance numbers and software registration numbers. Not only does it provide additional safety, but it also allows for easier online transaction since these numbers can just be copied and pasted out of it. Popular password manager choices are KeePass, eWallet, and SplashID. They have additional advantages like a password generator and even the option of synchronizing these passwords with a Smartphone so that this information is readily available whenever and wherever.
Another important part of making one’s online life as safe as possible is to use the password features of a particular website smartly. Most sites have security questions in order for people to be able to retrieve forgotten passwords or even account names. In times where a large part of our personal information is available for other people to read on the internet these features have to be used in different ways. Using the “what was your mother’s maiden name” question for example is not such a good idea if your mother is one of your Facebook friends and she sports a hyphenated double name. Neither is using your pet’s name a good idea if you twitter about your dog at least once a week. Information that is available on these social applications is especially easy for users to access, just think of all the people who are allowed to view a specific profile by just being in a particular network. In order to make the security questions safer, users can employ somewhat cryptic answers, which can subsequently be stored in the password manager.
Another safety precaution that is easy to maintain is not to use any public PCs. Although it seems really practical to check one’s email from a hotel lobby computer or in a public library these computers are generally a major risk for the safety of passwords. Due to the fact that those computers are used by many different people and rarely investigated for viruses or spyware they are the perfect harvesting ground for thieves who are interested in unsuspecting people’s data. It is then not surprising that many public computers are infected with Trojan Horses which allow hackers to access the personal information (such as passwords) that users have employed on a particular computer. If the only option is to use a public computer, security can be enhanced by first running an anti virus software to ensure that the computer is not infected.