Computer security breaches are becoming more pervasive, brazen, and dangerous to your personal information. In this environment, it is more important than ever that you practice proper security with respect to your financial passwords.
Password breaches can take place in two ways: choosing passwords that are ridiculously easy to guess (such as the ever-popular “password”) and being careless with the security of your password. How do you avoid breaches?
- Use Random Characters – Most security experts will tell you to use at least eight characters, a mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols – and then tell you to make it something relevant to your life and easy to remember, which is not at all simple. “Honey, remember the time we visited YeRmoM!% in CaL!4nYa?”
That’s hard enough once, but try coming up with multiple passwords of that nature every 3-6 months when you decide to change them all. It is better to come up with truly random passwords, write them down, and store them in safe places away from the computer. This applies to office computer use as well – passwords can be found in many offices on sticky notes attached to the computer.
- Do Not Share Passwords – Passwords should not be shared with others, or shared between sites. Using simple variations of a favorite password is not much of an improvement. Use a truly unique password for each site you visit.
- Do Not Save Passwords – It is inconvenient to have to retype your password in when you can have your computer save it for you. However, that makes it easier for the password to be stolen. Would you rather your computer be convenient, or secure?
A number of popular apps and software programs can manage passwords for you. These programs generate long random passwords, change them periodically, and manage your log-in access to various sites. To date, these programs are reasonably reliable based on reviews. However, it could be that there are so many soft targets remaining that identity thieves do not need to bother targeting these programs. If you would like to prevent identity theft, check out our credit monitoring service.
If a password manager sounds appealing to you, do some online research to find the best product for your needs.
- Limit Public Uses – This advice used to be directed toward use of public computers, such as at libraries, but today the larger risk is the use of mobile devices in unsecure areas. Any time you use any site that requires a password you run the risk of unsecure transmission and data theft – especially if your mobile device is set to switch automatically from 3G/4G to wireless if the signal is temporarily lost.
Do not forget to completely log out and close the browser after any session, public or private.
- Protect your Computer – Keep anti-virus software updated and run scans regularly. (Mac users – you need anti-virus software, too.) Using encryption software provides another layer of security. Don’t forget to keep your home wireless server secure as well.
- Beware of Phishing Scams – Never open sketchy e-mails and attachments. Virus downloading is becoming even more sophisticated, and keystroke-recording malware can negate the randomness of any password. E-mail links can lead you to very realistic looking websites – make sure you are on the correct secure website before entering any information.
You may ask – what happens if I have protected my passwords so well that nobody can find them when I die? Obviously you will not care at that point, but writing the passwords down and placing them in a separate secure location — like a safe deposit box — makes it less likely that your loved ones will have to go through difficulties to access your financial information to take care of your affairs after your death. Give one trusted person the location of the passwords. The password manager PasswordBox offers a legacy feature that will share passwords with a designated “digital heir” after a customer’s death certificate is validated.
Stay one step ahead of the hackers by implementing these steps and being vigilant about computer protection. Even the best security is not completely immune to hackers, but if they have to work hard to get to your information, they are likely to move on to someone who has less protection. As in the old joke about two hunters encountering a bear in the woods, “I don’t have to outrun the bear; I just have to outrun you.”