One of the best things about living next door to my mother is the joy of providing her with 24 hour tech support. Recently she gave her Yahoo Mail username and password to Nigerian internet pirates. These clever Nigerian fellows took control of her email, sent a virus to all her friends, and then deleted her contacts. This created quite a stir amongst her friends since they all received email from her stating she was stranded in London and needed money.
The pirates were able to trick my mother into giving up her information with a little virus that popped up a message that said, “Your Yahoo account is about to be closed permanently, if you would like to keep your account active, log in below.” Not knowing any better, she sent her password to the pirates. Lucky for her it was only her email.
These scams are happening all the time with banks and credit cards. So here is the lesson. Never enter your login information into a web browser unless you check the address and know it to be legitimate.
For example, If you bank at Wells Fargo and want to log into your www.wellsfargo.com online account, make sure the address in the web browser is in fact www.wellsfargo.com. Not something like wellsfargo.04.ru. This address gives your bank account information to pirates in Russia.
In addition to verifying the authenticity of websites prior to entering sensitive information, strong passwords help keep your information secure as well.
Here are a few tips for strong and secure passwords.
1. Use a different password for every website.
2. Make your passwords long with 10 or more characters.
3. Include lower and upper case letters, numbers, punctuation and symbols.
4. Don’t use words found in the dictionary. Make up acronyms from phrases you can easily remember. Example: “Dairy Today magazine is the best.” Use the first letter from each word and your password would be DTmitb.
5. Change your passwords often
Most people don’t follow these rules because it is difficult to remember so many passwords. A simple way to have different strong passwords that you can easily remember is to build them from a formula. Here’s an example:
1. Pick some numbers you will remember. Don’t use your birthday or ATM pin number. Let’s use the number “42”.
2. Now create an acronym like “DTmitb”.
3. Pick some special characters, I’ll use “<>”
4. String those together and you end up with 42DTmitb<>. This will be the basis for all your passwords.
5. To create a unique password for each website that is easy to remember, add several letters from the website’s name to your formula.
Let’s pretend this is for Facebook. I’ll use the first and last letter of the name “F” & “k” and add them to the end of the formula. So now the final password will be: 42DTmitb<>Fk. For Gmail it would be 42DTmitb<>Gl and so on.
This formula is only one example of millions of combinations. Take some time to sketch out your own formula then go change all your passwords. Every 6 months or so come up with a new formula and change them all again.
They say “there is no such thing as a free lunch”, but lunch in exchange for fixing your mother’s computer is probably the closest thing to it.
A few other sources for creating strong passwords:
The Ultimate Guide for Creating Strong Passwords
Making Strong Passwords
Author: Dino Giacomazzi
Publication: Dairy Today
Publication Date: September 2012