For Your Eyes Only: Tips to Protect Your Digital Information
February 19, 2014 | Home and Family
By Karl Gouverneur, chief technology officer at Northwestern Mutual.
Recent security breaches in the hotel industry and at major retailers like Target, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus are a good reminder of why it’s so critical to protect your personal logins and information. Not to worry. Taking a few simple precautions can help ensure that your data remains for your eyes only.
Today, we divulge personal data without giving it a second thought. When you log in to a web site or mobile app, your sign-on credentials could potentially be at risk for hacking. Think about how many different places and the number of times you log in … to access your bank account, check your 401k, log in to Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, ebay, Netflix—and the list goes on.
Are You at Risk?
Who can remember passwords for all of these accounts? According to Microsoft, not many of us. The company’s research indicates the average person has 25 online accounts yet uses only six passwords to access those accounts. What’s more bothersome is that 66 percent of consumers admitted using the same one or two passwords for all their log-ins.
This “less is more” approach to managing your accounts makes your personal information vulnerable to “digital hijacking.” It takes only one link in your chain of accounts to fall into the wrong hands for hackers to gain access to all of your accounts, including the keys to your identity and your finances.
What’s the Answer?
You could try to manage separate log-ins for all your different online accounts, but that’s not really practical. A more convenient option is to let a password manager app handle everything for you. Password managers, such as 1Password, Splash ID and Norton 360 offer a secure and easy way to store your log-in and personal data, including credit card information needed for online purchases.
These apps log you into your accounts using automatically generated passwords, one for each account, that are nearly impossible to crack. Password managers also can synchronize your information across your mobile devices and PC. The best part—you need only remember one password to access all your online accounts and personal information. Be sure your password isn’t too simple—the more complex (characters, symbols, #s, etc.) it is, the less likely it can be hijacked by hackers.
Password managers are a great start to protecting yourself in today’s digital age, but sometimes even that’s not enough. No matter how secure your password is, hackers can still find ways to access your online accounts. Think about how many accounts invite users to reset online passwords by answering security questions, such as:
- What is your mother’s maiden name?
- What street did you grow up on?
- What was your high school mascot?
The sad truth is the majority of your answers are readily available on the Internet, and most likely you put them there … via social media sites. Reset your security questions, and make your response something that’s meaningful to you but hard to guess. For example, enter your mother’s maiden name and add her birthday at the end. Or, include the address and city along with the street name where you grew up. These simple techniques make it a lot harder for a hacker to break your security questions.
The Future of Passwords
There’s good news on the horizon, though. Passwords will eventually become extinct. With advances in biometrics and facial recognition, it’s likely that one day you will become your password. In fact, Google is already developing an ingestible pill that emits a unique signal to act as your password. You wouldn’t need to enter anything to access you computer—your data would automatically become available only when your computer senses it’s you.
While we’re waiting for these Star Trekkian security advances to go mainstream, we still have to deal with passwords. So protect yourself by using a password manager and making your security questions much harder to crack. These simple steps could go a long way to keeping you off the road to digital hijacking—definitely a trip you don’t want to take.