Internet predators are everywhere these days, stealing passwords and account information right and left. Consequently, just about everything you do online requires some sort of username and password authentication. It's a hassle; it's frustrating; and it can be tempting to ignore the problem if you've never had to deal with a hacker. But the first time you have to recover data, cancel your credit cards, or reinstall an entire website, you'll realize it really is a good idea to be vigilant about your online security.
Take your passwords seriously
Carefully crafted passwords are an easy way to start protecting yourself. You should use unique passwords for all your important accounts like online banking and email. If you use the same password all the time, it's easy for criminals to harvest your information on one site and then hack into a more sensitive site using the same codes. It's a common tactic for identity theft.
Mix it up
A good password should have a mix of letters and symbols, capital letters and numbers. It's a good idea to choose a password that's completely unrelated to your birthday, anniversary, kids' names or any other personal information. Of course, you still want it to be easy to remember. So, try using holidays, simple quotes or words from favorite TV shows or movies, or even words in a foreign language.
Make recovery simple
There's no denying keeping track of multiple passwords is a pain. You're probably going to forget some of them now and then. So, be sure your password recovery email address is easy to access from anywhere, just in case you need to recover or reset your password. Also, choose "hint questions" with care. Use questions with answers that can't change, like your mother's maiden name or the town you were born in. A recovery question that asks "your favorite" anything (food, car, pet, football team) can change over time. You may find yourself wondering did I like lobster or ice cream best for this password?
Keep them organized
Password managers can help you keep everything organized and easy to find. There are lots of good managers available - some free and some premium versions. If you decide to keep a master list somewhere, either on paper or in a file on your computer, make sure it's not easy for thieves to find. Don't keep a notes or lists in your briefcase, on your desk or even in your phone. If you do have a file on your computer, make sure it has a file name that doesn't give away the contents.
Use 2-step verification for extra protection
If you typically use your Gmail or other Google services from public computers, or if you have sensitive information on your Google accounts, you may want to check out their two-step verification service. It's simple to use and adds an extra layer of protection against hackers and thieves.
Here's how it works. Step one of the verification is your normal login procedure. You enter your username and password. Then you enter a second special number called a verification code. The tricky part is this code is always changing. You can have Google call or text you the code on your phone, or you can generate one automatically on your Android, Blackberry or iPhone using the Google Authenticator app. If you choose, you can have one verification code last for 30 days before you have to enter a new one. The verification code is always changing, so hackers never know what the new code is. They'll simply move on to easier targets.
Taking online security seriously is important, especially if you use public Internet access. Spyware, malware and other software programs exist to steal information right off your computer from across a room or even across a parking lot. You'll never know your information is being stolen, and you'll never know who did it. But one day you'll wake up another victim of identity theft and your world will never be the same. Take some simple precautions now to prevent these headaches later.