By Brady Sklenar
ARE RUSSIAN SPIES HACKING YOU???
Have you ever thought to yourself how secure your online accounts really are? Sure, it may cross your mind sometimes, but for the most part you kind of brush it off. You think your password is strong enough. You use your old email address from the 6th grade, so nobody even knows what it is except you. Yeah, you probably shouldn’t use the same password for every account you have, but you change up the numbers at the end and add some extra symbols once in awhile, so you’re pretty good, right?
Everyone makes these mistakes, but that doesn’t mean you should keep making them. You’ve probably procrastinated using more secure passwords and protecting your accounts better because it’d just take too much effort and none of your friends or family have been hacked, so you probably think it’s not that common. It’s a lot more common than you think, though, and it only takes someone to access your account once for a lot of your private information (and sometimes even your money) to be lost to some hacker halfway across the world.
What if I told you that making and remembering strong passwords is actually pretty easy, and you can secure your account even further without much more effort either! I know this article might be a bit long, but I hope you take the time to read through and learn how to easily secure your accounts. At the very least, click on some of the links I’ve included and read up on some cool services that can help make your online life safer and easier.
We’ve all made the mistake. We’ve been told to make complex passwords and to not reuse them, but it’s so hard to remember a bunch of secure passwords when we now have accounts on dozens of different sites!
So you end up opting for something simple. You use an old pet’s name or your favorite sport and add your favorite number, your birthday or an anniversary to the end of it. Sometimes you add some extra numbers at the end or switch out some letters for symbols that look like it to make a $Up3r $3CuR3 P@$$w0Rd!
Sorry to break it to you, but these passwords are really easy to guess, and even easier to guess if it’s information that other people know about you. And no, replacing letters with those symbols doesn’t help much. It only takes a couple seconds for a computer program to crack.
I’m not here to lecture you from my high horse. I made all these same mistakes myself, and I only recently updated my passwords within the last year. This may sound like an advertisement, but what if I told you I had a simple solution that’ll allow you to not only help you create more complex passwords but also help you keep track of them all to? I present to you the password manager!
What is a password manager, you may be asking? Well it’s pretty simple. Instead of having to remember dozens and dozens of passwords, you instead put all of your passwords into your password manager. After that, you only need to remember one master password you use to log into your password manager.
There’s a lot of options out there for password managers, but my personal recommendation is LastPass. LastPass allows you to access all your passwords on both your computer as well as your phone. It can also store a lot more than just passwords! Any kind of information you want to secure can be stored there as well. On top of all this, LastPass makes it very easy to save your passwords for any new accounts you make and change your existing passwords that probably need updating. Just be sure to make your master password as complex as you can because a lot of private information is being stored in that account.
Have you ever signed up for a website that texts you a code to log in with? If so, you’re already using Two-Factor Authentication! Abbreviated as 2FA, it’s used to be a second way of securing your account after your password. Some websites just text you this code, but apps such as Google Authenticator will instead generate a new code for you every 30 seconds. Without this code, anyone who is able to guess your password will still be unable to successfully log in and you’ll usually be sent an email letting you know you should probably change your password.
2FA isn’t very hard to set up, and its benefits far outweigh the extra ten seconds it takes to login. 2FA has actually saved my accounts from being hacked into about a dozen times over the last five years, so I really can’t recommend it enough. A lot of websites allow you to set up 2FA for your account, so look through your account’s settings and add it to as many of your accounts as you can! I’ve also compiled a few useful links for how to add 2FA to your favorite social media accounts.
Keeping Your Information Secure
We all know to look for the green lock icon next to the URL when visiting a new website, but just because that icon exists doesn’t mean that website is safe. That isn’t to say you should completely ignore the icon altogether. It’s an important tool to know that the information you’re sending across the internet won’t be intercepted on the way there. However, you should definitely take a bit more care when determining what sites to send your information to.
I typically like to follow two rules when determining whether or not I should use a website. First, if a website has been known to snub on data security, I don’t give them my information. Second, if they will only let me make a purchase by giving them my credit or debit card number, I won’t buy anything from their site. These rules are a bit hefty, so let me explain.
Many websites do not take the effort to keep the information you give them safe. Many of your favorite sites store all your information in plaintext. What this means is that your password and other sensitive information is stored without any encryption, and if they are ever hacked (or an employee with access feels like it), your information is able to be read without any need to unencrypt it. Encrypting your information is not difficult and if a company is not doing the bare minimum to protect just your password, how can you trust them with your other information? I don’t want to make any accusations, especially since some of these sites may have improved their security, but I’d advise you to do some research before handing them your information.
Making purchases online is something I put a lot of thought into before trusting them with my information. Some major financial damage can be done if your credit or debit card information is leaked and so I try to limit the amount of sites I give my information to. There was a time when I would just put my card into any site that gave me the best deal when making a purchase and one time my information was stolen. Luckily, the card was canceled before any damage could be done, but because of that, I’ve become more aware of how I make purchases online.
In order to limit how many sites have my financial information, I prefer to make purchases through a separate payment gateway. I personally prefer PayPal, but many other options exist including Google Wallet, Apple Pay and Venmo. In my experience, though, PayPal is the most widely-accepted and when a website doesn’t allow me to make my purchase through PayPal, I almost always simply don’t make the purchase.
Sometimes you are only able to order what you need to from one website, though. What are your options when that happens and the site doesn’t support any kind of alternative payment gateway? There is a new option that I’ve recently heard of called a one-time use card or virtual card number. If you need to make a purchase using a card and you don’t want to give them your information, you can instead generate a new credit card number that will only work for that one payment you are making. So far there aren’t too many places that offer this service, but a few do including Discover, Citi Bank, Bank of America, Capital One and a free option called Privacy.
Wow, that was a long article! Thanks for sticking it out to the end. I originally planned on this being a lot longer, so I guess you got off lucky this time. (Honestly though I was just ranting for a while and it sounded like I was just lecturing, so I scrapped my original plan and restarted. Hopefully this version was a bit better than the first draft!)
Mom, I know you’re reading this. Please follow my advice.