Protect yourself and send hackers packing

By Josh Linton

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, April 4 2013 7:00 a.m. MDT

Cyber hacking can be an expensive and difficult problem to fix. There are certain things users can do each month to try to protect their accounts.

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Last month, Burger King’s Twitter account was hacked. In an article in Mashable, Annie Colbert reported, “The cyber tricksters changed the fast food company's avatar and name to 'McDonalds' and sent a McFlurry of questionable and offensive tweets. The Twitter mishap isn't all bad news for Burger King though — the account added 5,000 new followers in the first 30 minutes since the hackers took over.”

In addition to the Burger King hack, there have been a number of other high-profile security breaches that have made the news. Recently, LinkedIn and eHarmony both reported that 8 million passwords were breached. These breaches raise the question of how to protect yourself from these types of breaches, specifically as it relates to password security for social media accounts such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and personal blogs.

Many people have blogs and should be careful, especially with the big blog questionnaires that are trendy right now. A lot of casual bloggers willingly participate in these questionnaires. It's a "tag your it … tell us about yourself" where the people go through and answer questions about where they grew up, maiden names, anniversary dates, birth dates, pet’s names, etc.

These questionnaires seem innocent and fun but they ask some of the same questions sites ask those who are trying to recover an email or password. The answers to these questions are typically used as passwords for e-mail and social media accounts.

SplashData, a California company, created a ranking of worst passwords based on millions of stolen passwords posted online by hackers. In addition to avoiding these most common passwords, here are some tips to consider when setting a new password.

  • Regularly change your passwords: Not on a daily basis but at least once a year for personal accounts and more frequently for business accounts that you use regularly. In many cases a business will require you to change your password as often as every 45 days; it’s important to follow those guidelines.
  • Use different passwords for different accounts: It’s important to not use the same password for every one of your accounts. If one account gets compromised and if you use different passwords for different accounts it makes it more difficult for a hacker or somebody else to try and access all of your accounts. It’s challenging to keep track of multiple passwords, but there are apps and other ways to keep track of all your sensitive information.
  • The longer the password the better: Longer passwords make it harder for would-be hackers to track and follow them, making it more difficult to gain access to your accounts.
  • Don’t allow your computer to save your password: Every time you log in to an account, you should have to type the password. If you lose your computer or somebody else gains access to it and doesn’t have to type the password to gain access to an e-mail or social media account they can easily act as you.
  • Use phrases as passwords: For example, “My 3rd son is good @ soccer.” Phrases like this personalize the password and make it easier to remember.
  • Use upper case and lower case letters as well as numbers and symbols: It’s a good idea to mix the password up a little with symbols and numbers. In the example above, for instance, instead of spelling the word at, use the symbol @. Other best practices for this include capitalizing the first letter of each new word or including exclamation points or question marks as part of the password.
In the future there may be a time when passwords aren't needed the way we currently use them. Technology is advancing at such a fast pace that alternatives may not be far off. Currently there are technologies such as Multi Factor Identification that require a password and another form of code in order to log in, and we’re seeing a move in that direction due to changing technologies.

By following these tips you’ll make it more difficult for hackers and others with malicious intents to gain access to your personal accounts.

Josh Linton is the vice president of technology at VLCM, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2013. He manages the company’s technical team that provides tech support and services to its clients. Linton graduated from BYU.

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