With the amount of cyber-attacks that occur on a regular basis to large and small companies (just a few weeks ago, hackers breached LivingSocial.com, affecting 50 million users), it’s starting to look like there’s really nothing we can do to secure ourselves effectively.
Of course, everybody has a different philosophy when it comes to securing anything. Let’s look at the example of securing a house. People have various approaches to defending their homes from robbery or home-invasion. Some people have an alarm, some have attack dogs, and some even keep loaded weapons in the house, ready to fire-off willy-nilly when they feel scared (having weapons around is occasionally effective, as poet Maya Angelou learned when she deterred a burglar by blasting at him with non-metaphorical lead).
The point is that while one article will say that it’s time to move past passwords and that online security is an illusion, another offers best practices for online security— I’m not talking about totally different websites either, I’m talking about two articles from separate authors on the same website.
Opinions differ when it comes to cyber-security, but the fact is, if you’re not trying hard to secure yourself (and face it, some of us aren’t trying at all), you’re putting yourself at considerable risk.
The real story is that while passwords and other measures really can’t protect us from a large enough attack, it’s also very likely that nobody is going to bombard little-old-you for days or weeks trying to guess your securely chosen password (a brute-force attack). Most crime—digital or otherwise—is an act of opportunity. Someone will grab a tablet sitting out on a table before he’ll snatch one from a store. Criminals like to take things that are easy to steal.
That said, cyber-criminals might not put a lot of work into something with a small payoff (this can differ slightly when hacker collectives like Anonymous hack into various systems for fun or to cause mischief or deliver their own brand of justice), so for most of us, having secure passwords and using two-factor authentication (logins that require two methods of authentication) as often as possible can help in keeping hackers from directly accessing accounts.
The scary thing is that although we can protect ourselves from most direct access attacks, hackers have been known to spend a lot of time trying to breach large companies that have a large amount of personal client data. The payoff is much greater, and they’re occasionally successful. That’s why they go after sites like Living Social. When a site has 50 million accounts, there’s a lot more to gain by taking the time to get in. Information on these sites can be basic things like name and email, but other sites contain credit card and address information, which is enough for a cyber-criminal to steal your identity. To help prevent this, Wired suggests you use disposable credit cards to make online transactions. You can’t be too careful because the more information you put online, the more you’re at risk; it’s wise to minimize it.
Ultimately, whether passwords can truly protect us or not, it’s still critical to pick secure ones. Not taking security measures means you’re at risk. Again, most crime happens because it’s easy for the criminal, so don’t let it be easy. Set up some defenses and you’ll be a lot better off than those that didn’t. Here are some questions to ask yourself when it comes to security:
- Do you have secure passwords? Were you sure not to write them down? When’s the last time you changed them?
- Are you using two-factor authentication where it’s possible?
- Are you using separate logins for everything? Logging in using Facebook is convenient, but it’s also not as safe.
- Are you using credit cards online? Have you considered only using disposable credit cards?
- Are you using firewalls and are you checking for malware and viruses? Not going to seedy or disreputable websites will help lessen the threat.
- Are you on the look-out for scams and spam? If it looks like it might be a scam (or spam), it probably is. Don’t open or reply to either type of email. It’s also wise to invest in a free spam blocker if you aren’t actively blocking spam already.
- Are you taking backups? If you do end up with a virus or malware, image-based backup software capable of taking incremental backups can easily help you restore your entire machine to a point in time before you had any issues—this is often one of the easiest ways to fix the problems malicious software causes.