published Sunday, April 20th, 2014

Consumer Watch: Right passwords key to ID security


by Ellen Phillips

Well, your consumer expert may not be so expert after all. In the past, I've written of a number of methods whereby readers can avoid cyber attacks and, for the most part, I've followed my own advice until the advent of my new computer. Throwing caution to the winds, because of impending surgery, the need to set the sucker up, to fix files - and write columns - I turned into one of those do-as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do types, only to have someone obviously far smarter than I crank up their prying eyes and delve into those what I thought were decent but what developed into pitiable passwords I had just set up a few weeks prior.

I promise I've learned my lesson, thanks to AARP, and hope you also follow their tips to keep all your date safe and secure, including:

1. Experts now stress at least 15 characters, composed of letters, numbers, and symbols. Never use a five-character password; a hacker can crack it in five seconds.

2. A long password may be strong but won't do any good if we can't remember what it is. According to the article, stick to a formula that mixes deliberately misspelled words, different patterns of lower and upper-case letters, and symbols. For example, I really doubt that Harold Hacker would ever figure out "MinmIselen&1'm65." while I'll remember "My name is Ellen and I'm 65."

3. I used to store my passwords on a piece of paper that I hid under my keyboard. Duh. While paper storage is actually better than storage on your smartphone or computer, be certain the paper is well hidden. Plus, it's better to have hints rather the actual passwords themselves.

4. Software programs are available to store your user names and passwords in one encrypted database. To use LastPass, SplashID Safe, and 1Password, all a user needs is one master password to open the manager.

So all together: NO loved ones/pets, hometowns, specific dates, previous passwords, using same password across multiple sites, sequential numbers such as 1234 or 0000, and the list goes on and on and on.

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears every Sunday. Email her at consumer watch@timesfreepress.com.

about Ellen Phillips...

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at www.timesfreepress.com under Local Business.

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