Protect Your Online Accounts

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PadlockIt seems like, regularly, we hear stories about how some database was hacked and personal information was stolen. In such a world, it becomes increasingly important to protect your online accounts.

Whether you are trying to protect an individual account from being compromised, or whether you are trying to limit the damage due to a breach at some other company, there are some things you can do to protect your online accounts as much as you are able.

Be Careful of What Information Your Share in Public

One of the issues with passwords these days is that it is fairly easy to get information about likely password combinations with the help of publicly available information. Your blog, a social media profile, or other information online can provide clues to your likely password. Don’t build a password around information that is easy to obtain or guess from looking at the information you share online. Your kids’ or pets’ names, birth dates, names of parents, where you went to school, the year you graduated, and other similar information can be found online, or clues to the answers can be found fairly easily. Don’t use this information when creating a password.

If you want to come up with some truly difficult passwords, create a system that appears random, or use a password generator. can help you create a truly random password with no connection to your life events.

Change It Up

Don’t use the same password for all of your accounts. One of the techniques used after the PlayStation Network was hacked was to go to different web sites and try the same username and password combination. If a hacker gets your password from one database, all of your accounts are compromised if you use the same password. Change it up by using different passwords for different accounts, and by changing your passwords every few months.

Use a Cheat Sheet

In order for this to work, you need to omit some of the information, or create a clues to help you remember the password without giving it away. This can help you avoid problems if your cheat sheet falls into the wrong hands. Another method of “cheating” is to come up with a system. Use your favorite literary character, or use the first two letters in each word that makes up the title of your favorite song. Throw in a number, and create a method of mixing upper and lower case letters. Then, change something about the password to reflect which account it’s for.

For instance, I might use Scotland the Brave, with the number 73, an underscore and the second and fifth letters capitalized as my system. My Twitter password would be Twi_sCth73Br, while my Facebook password would be Fac_sCth73Br. Both look random, and would be hard to guess. But the system would mean that I could remember my passwords.

You can also encrypt your data using a free service like KeePass to protect your password and login information, or use a locked file on your computer to protect the information.

Bottom Line

There is no way to completely protect your online accounts. However, you can make it harder for others to break in, and you can limit the damage when one of your accounts is compromised, preventing unsavory characters from getting into all of your accounts.

(Photo: zebble)

{ 5 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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5 Responses to “Protect Your Online Accounts”

  1. Kurt says:

    One suggestion to add: Sign up for every type of alert offered by providers where you have an online account. These are proliferating. You can typically opt for an email or SMS to be sent to you immediately if activities that you specify (e.g., password change, withdrawal) occur.

  2. sp0rus says:

    Using something like Lastpass or Keepass (my password manager of choice) is a great thing to ease the burden of different passwords for every site and random passwords on top of that. Otherwise it’s nearly impossible to remember all your login information.

  3. govenar says:

    If I saw that your twitter password was Twi_sCth73Br, it’s not that hard to guess that your facebook password might be Fac_sCth73Br. (But probably in most cases the hackers would just run automated scripts that try logging in at other sites with your same password; a real person might not look at the stolen password (unless he was specifically targeting you and wanted to spend extra time). So I guess this is a reasonable method, and definitely better than using the exact same password.)

  4. Intentionally Blank says:

    Another security tactic I’ve seen is to change the user name rather than the password. Most hacking assumes that if your login on one site is JohnDoe1234 then your login name to other sites may be the same. Then they will just take your login name and start hitting a list of popular sites (and banking sites) and start pounding.

    You have two pieces of information to log in, your user name and your password. If your log in name is different on every site, you can use the same password.

    OK so its may not be any less hassle to remember, but it is more secure against hacking because it is opposite to the way most brute force hacks work. Unfortunately many sites are now adopting the practice of using your email address as your login name. While that may be convenient, it defeats this scheme. Fortunately I have not seen this used as a standard practice at financial sites, but I only access a very small number of those.

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