The NY Times recently posted an article from their resident security expert about the need for strong password protection for your online accounts. The author recounts being teased for his paranoia, which included taping over the camera lens on his laptop only to notice one day that the light indicating that his camera was operating had turned on. Someone had accessed his computer and was watching. He also recalls setting up a two step password process for his gmail account (which he strongly recommends), in which after logging in with your username and password Google texts an additional unique 6 digit password to your cell phone. He received a text when he wasn’t trying to log in. Once again, an indicator that someone was trying to access his account.
He’s right to be a bit paranoid and he offers good advice regarding password protection. To beat a hacker, your password should be at least 14 characters long, with a combination of letters, characters and symbols. It should not include pet names, proper names or words that can be found in the dictionary. The best passwords are formed by random combinations.
These passwords aren’t unbeatable, but they can take a hacker more than 24 hours to crack and they may be more likely to move on to an easier target.
While these passwords are much harder to remember and may seem like an unnecessary annoyance, easier passwords don’t even require a sophisticated hack to break. For example, “hackings” of the emails of famous people like Sarah Palin, or the recently revealed emails of mass murderer Jared Loughner, did not involve a sophisticated cyber attack but lucky guesses based on what the perpetrators knew about the subjects. Loughner’s password actually was his pet’s name.
As we all conduct more business online and more information about us is online, we would do well to be a bit paranoid ourselves.