Every week there’s a new digital scare.
However, you don’t have to delete all your accounts and go offline to be safe. You just have to take some simple steps to make sure you’re not fully exposed to the tactics used by digital terrorists that try to get your data.
The Most Common Tips, but with More Information
There is a list of tips every site offers in case a massive amount of data is compromised. We present the upside and downside about each one:
1. Make Stronger Passwords
Upside: If you’re using “password” or “12345,” you’re welcoming danger.
Downside: If you create too many outlandish passwords, you probably need to store them in an unsecured place, like a document titled "Passwords" or on a piece of paper near your desk. According to an Intel study as reported by Digital Trends, “the average person has 27 different logins for various accounts spanning both personal and work use -- and 37 percent of respondents forget at least one of those passwords every week.”
Tip: Not all sites are created equal. Bring out the big password guns for sites with your most vital information like banking, email, benefits, etc. This advice applies to anything where money or highly personal information is at stake. Also, if you use one site to log in to various websites – like when you log in to a news site using your Facebook account -- you can protect all those sites by having a solid password on that single site.
No Dupes or Re-runs: Even for non-critical accounts, re-using a password can always be risky. You never know when someone might be able to figure out how to use a non-critical account (like a throwaway email address) to impersonate you and gain access to a critical one (like your Gmail or Facebook account).
2. Use Two-Step Verification
What Is It? You must do two things to gain access to that account. For example, you type in a password to receive a unique code via text message (or robocall), which you enter on the site to swing the doors wide open.
Upside: This appears to be the most secure method apart from fingerprints and retinal scanners (which probably only exist in spy movies); for someone to hack your account, they’d need to have your password and access to your phone. Two-factor verification used to be a hassle, but it’s gotten much easier over time. So, if it scared you off in the past, try giving it another shot.
Downside: If you lose your phone, you may be locked out until you replace it; while it’s ideal if you only use one computer all the time, many start to feel the pain when they want to access an account from a phone, tablet, or multiple computers. Still, if you’re afraid of being hacked or tend to use the same password across numerous accounts, it’s worth the extra effort.
3. Use A Password Manager
What Is It? A program that manages all your passwords for all your accounts and creates new ones on the fly that are virtually impossible to crack.
Upside: Rather than remembering hundreds of passwords, you only have to remember one to access everything. This method makes it easier to safely share accounts of your choosing with family, co-workers, and people you trust. Moreover, most password managers identify when you're re-using the same password for multiple sites and strongly advise you to change it.
Downside: If someone you don’t trust steals that password, they can access everything. In addition, if you happen to forget your master password, you will lose everything and end up right back where you started.
Tip for the Ultra-Secure: If you use a password manager and don’t want to share the password with anyone while you’re still alive, write it down and keep it with other vital documents (will, life insurance policy, POA, etc.).
Very Important Note: Whenever the master password is updated, you should also update the one stored on a piece of paper. Otherwise, you went through all this trouble for nothing since a deputy can’t access your accounts with an outdated master password.
4. Don’t Share Passwords with Anyone
Most sites forbid you from sharing your password with anyone, or else you violate their terms and conditions.
Upside: No one will ever be able to access any of your accounts.
Downside: Some accounts are meant to be shared. If you have health insurance and your spouse needs access, sharing the login details is the most logical way to do this. The same goes for sharing a Netflix account with the family or the master password for a password manager because you're tired of having to tell your spouse or kids the health insurance and Netflix passwords over and over again.
Tip: Most password managers allow you to share account access with anyone in your life without revealing the password to them.
5. How to Create Better Passwords
If you’re not ready to use a password manager, you must strengthen your passwords.
Never use a common word, name, or birthdate. Come up with phrases, song lyrics, or mix in some capital letters, symbols, and numbers. Here are some examples to get your mind working:
- My [NUMBER OF KIDS YOU HAVE] kids are so cute = My2kidsar3s0cut3
- Turning the letters "o" into "0" and “e” into "3" is pretty easy to remember
- Capitalize the first letter of each word; turn “a” into @
- Pound signs are neato! = #poundsignsareneat0!
- Feel free to use a$ many $ymbols & ch@r^cters as you like (¯\_(ツ)_/¯)
6. Where Should You Keep Your Passwords?
Whether you keep them in a digital document, a note-taking app, or write them down on paper or a Post-it note, you should still take some precautions. But first, some benefits and drawbacks to keeping it low-fi:
Upside: The password can’t be stolen by hackers unless they break into your house.
Downside: You can lose or misplace it. The password can also become outdated and turn into a mess when you have to scrawl new passwords over older ones. What’s more, someone visiting your home can copy, steal, or accidentally throw out/spill coffee on the piece of paper.
You Might Want to: Create a document on your computer and name it something a little less obvious than “passwords” or “the keys to my entire life.” Instead, try “Work Forms,” “Very Boring Invoices,” etc.
How to Make It Work for You: Instead of writing every username and password down verbatim, create a simple system and include useful hints and clues.
Example: Account name, username/email you use, password hint = Facebook, Yahoo, Kelly’s fave F0od!
This way you know the account (Facebook), the email tied to that account (Yahoo), and a good idea of what the password is.
Let’s say you forget that Kelly’s favorite food and your password is “HamburgerS0up!”. You already made your hint helpful by writing “Kelly’s fave F0od!,” which lets you know that the “H” and “S” should be capitalized, and there’s a “!” as your special character. Additionally, get into the habit of changing letters into numbers that look like that letter (o = 0). You’ll be that much more secure.
If you completely forget the password, don’t freak out. Just reset it and leave a better clue; while it may be a hassle to do so, it also forces you to create a different password and enable two-step verification.
The Downside to this System: If you become incapacitated or die, how will anyone ever figure out your passwords?
They probably won’t, which is why you should have a separate document stored someplace safe with a simple way to decipher your code. Yes, this is a lot of work, but if you don’t want to use a password manager (and share the one password), you have to expend the extra effort.
The Upside to this System: It allows you to have something in place, so your family, friends, and loved ones have some direction when it comes to managing your digital estate.