Unless you have been living under a rock for the last couple of weeks, you have probably heard about the major security breach at Target Stores. To summarize, between the dates of Black Friday and December 15. if you used your credit/debit card at Target stores, around 100 million people had their information potentially compromised. Initial reports had the figure much lower, but as is the case with these types of situations, the number rose.
This event should serve as a strong reminder that hackers are out there and they are looking for, and will steal your information if given the chance. Now you may be saying, “Well, this happened to their mainframes. How am I a single user going to protect myself if a big Fortune 500 retail company could not do it?” Before we crucify Target, let’s remember that it was not as if they were not taking security measures. This was a sophisticated attack. However you can protect yourself when online by doing just a few small things that will add up to something big.
If you are the type of person that uses the same password to every site you have an account with, let me break it to you gently. You are a disaster waiting to happen. Subtle huh? I am being quite serious and I feel talking bluntly about important things like your banking, shopping, and financial planning that we all do online and the security that goes around it is extremely important, and should be done so without minced words. Therefore, it’s time to start changing your passwords and not use the same one for every site. That includes having small variations of the same password.
Many of you will want to stop reading by saying, “I cannot remember 25 different passwords, it’s too hard.” Let me tell you something; you are right. We are overloaded with tons of passwords I will be the first to admit that. However, recycling the same password over and over again is dangerous. If a hacker gets a hold of one of your usernames and passwords, one of the first things they are going to try is to login to your bank account. Oh yes, if they’ve hacked your username and password for your bank, iTunes account, etc, it’s safe to say they have already obtained your entire internet history and are on their way to your banking website, Amazon account, just to name a few. So what can you do?
There are plenty of tools our there that are awesome for keeping track of all your passwords. One of the most simple and inexpensive ways is to create a spreadsheet in Excel of the name of the site, your username and your password. You can password protect that sheet with one single password. Then you can systematically goto all your login sites and change the password to something complex. I recommend using a mixture of upper and lower case letters mixed in with some special characters. Bottom line, pick something that you know you are not going to remember, put it in the spreadsheet, and voila, you have just made it harder for someone to hack your information.
A tool that I have personally used in the past is Roboform. This program has several functions, such as creating a template to auto-fill webforms. However, it also comes with the functionality to not only store all your passwords, but it comes with a password generator. There is a free service where you can try it, but if you are wanting to store more than 10 logins, you will need to purchase it. However, at $9.95 per year, it hardly breaks the bank. Best thing about it, it’s compatible with literally every mainstream OS out there and there is a mobile version of it, so you have it on the go!
This article is not just about passwords, though passwords are a major part of web security. This is a blog post about Web Security. If we are talking web security that means your machine needs to be protected with some type of antivirus and a firewall. Windows XP and above come with an internal firewall and if you do not have it enabled right now, go into Control Panel and turn it on. Also, get some antivirus on your machine. I actually know people that still are running their machines without antivirus and it really just makes me shake my head considering what all sensitive information they are sending out there into cyberspace.
If you are cheap, go with Avast! or AVG Free antivirus. I have recommended them to family and friends and have not had issues with them. If you are the paying type of person for security, then programs like Kaspersky and Symantec are great tools for protecting you from viruses and malware that can compromise your web security. In short, you should not be putting your credit card number into any site, no matter how reputable without having these two security items in place.
Having said all of that, there are those that may say, “If a hacker really wants to get in they are going to get in.”, and I will 9 times out of 10 agree with those people. However, internet security is about putting obstacles in front of a would be hacker. The more roadblocks put up, the harder it is for them to get in, and they will lose interest and look for the next person who is not quite so equipped with the proper security. Please do not be that person that the hacker decides to target due to lack of security.
There are many other things that you can do to protect yourself, and these are things we will cover on this blog. Feel free to contact me by leaving comments. I love answering them and look forward to hearing what you think!