I do a lot of things; singing, photography, cooking, making a spectacle of myself. But I make my living in technology, specifically the software side of it; however, I have helped out in other areas like networking and systems. Non-technical people just accept it when I tell them I work with computers. Then they ask me to fix theirs. That’s fair, I suppose. I sometimes get a nice meal out of it.
Being asked to poke around in somebody else’s computer feels like going through their sock drawer; it’s more revealing than you might think. My friend’s grandmother invited me to come over to fix her home computer. Her other grandkids also used it, and it was almost completely unusable, riddled with malware and viruses. I knew from some of the spyware and adware on this machine that the grandchildren were up to no good. Some sites are like visiting a toxic waste dump. You come out of there with a lot of stuff on you, and it takes some effort to clean up. I spent about two hours cleaning up this computer. I installed a free pop-up blocker, as well as some anti-virus software and something to block spyware. I told the lady she should keep on eye on her grandkids.
That was a while ago. Many people are more savvy about the internet these days, or at least they listen to the stories and take some precautions. Still, I am confident that most people don’t know how vulnerable they really are. If you are cautious, maybe even a little paranoid, that can work in your favor. Being skeptical of whether a website is legit is at least the first step in protecting your self. It’s like knowing that taking a shortcut through a dark alley isn’t safe. It only takes one incident to teach a very valuable lesson. In the meantime, hackers and spammers are working just as hard, or harder, to break into systems and steal information. Big companies get attacked all the time, and they have to employ teams of experts – some ex-hackers – to stay one step ahead of them.
One simple way you can protect yourself is to choose strong passwords and change them periodically. That’s easier said than done, I know. There are several good password managers out there. They are trustworthy and secure. The idea is to keep all your passwords in a sort of vault or safe. The benefit is that you don’t have to write down any passwords, and you can have the password manager (PM) generate a complex password for you. Secondly, the PM program validates the site you are connecting to, keeping you safer from phishing and pharming attempts. When you log onto a website, the PM assures you that it is the correct one.
On the subject of secure passwords, security specialists have recommended passphrases as an alternative to randomly generated passwords. There is some debate around whether one is better than the other. In my experience, anything longer than 10 characters and containing some numbers and upper- and lower-case is secure enough to last a few months. I usually go with 21 to 25 characters, no special symbols, and 2 or 3 digits. How secure is your password? Here’s a variation of a password I no longer use: doorbell887Agitate. I entered this in the above link to check how secure it is. It was rated as “very strong”, with one suggestion to add a special character, and we know how I feel about that. On Howsecureismypassword.net the estimated time a computer needs to crack this password is 145 trillion years. I feel better. I’m changing my password again in a month anyway.
I’ve worked in offices where people wrote their password on a post-it note and kept it under their keyboard. Others used variations of the word password (Password1 is very popular). This is probably the worst idea ever, and I want people to know. The thing is, I am guilty of being stupid. Years ago, I did these idiotic things, and someone scolded me, and now I know better. People are stupid. We walk around thinking we’re doing the right thing when it came to outsmarting the bad guys, when all along we were playing right into their hands. Thieves are working hard on ways to break in. Sometimes we make it very easy for them.
So lock your front door, unless you live in a utopian wonderland. Lock your car or keep it in the garage. Don’t leave valuable items in sight where someone could be tempted to break a window and take them. And don’t leave your personal information where anyone could just snap a picture – everyone has a camera these days. Lately, I’ve been using only cash, lest my card gets skimmed. It’s a constant struggle. Stay safe. Be alert.