Start the New Year With New Passwords

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By Josh Harding, ABA Systems Administrator

This year has seen an unprecedented number of security breaches, with cybercriminals making off with millions of people’s personal information. The problem isn’t limited to websites; it includes hotels, stores, restaurants, and, of course, run-of-the-mill websites and apps.

Easy access to this wealth of personal data affects us in several ways. Most importantly, if you use the same password for more than one site and it’s compromised, hackers have access to all the websites you use that password for (raise your hand if you use the same password for your banking as you do for other sites; it’s okay, I’m not looking). Additionally, with such easy access to individual data, identity theft has spiked dramatically.

There are a few simple steps you can take to minimize your risks in the online world. The first and most important is to change your passwords on services you consider critical. This could include your e-mail account, banking accounts, and maybe even your BookWeb account. Don’t use the same password for every site! It’s vastly preferable to have a Post-it on your home computer with all your passwords than to use the same password across many sites. You keep track of who wanders into your house, but you can no longer keep track of who wanders into the records of a store or hotel you patronized years ago.

You’ve probably been lectured about password complexity and required to make passwords longer, use unusual characters, and more. A great way to remember all these impossible-to-remember passwords, aside from the good old Post-it, is to use a password manager such as LastPass or Dashlane. These services take the burden of remembering every password, and all you need to remember is the password to that service. A further step that users can take is to enable two-factor authentication on their important accounts.

You can also lock your credit history. If you’re not in the market for a new house, car, or credit card, there’s no reason that credit bureaus should give your credit history to anyone. This prevents ne’er-do-wells from creating new bank accounts or credit cards in your name. A law recently passed requiring that this service be free, and it’s simple to unlock your history the next time you legitimately need to grant someone access.

It’s hard to know, in this modern era, whether a criminal has access to your personal information, but you can take steps to protect that information.