Consumer Watch: Limit hackers' access to sensitive information

Consumer Watch: Limit hackers' access to sensitive information

January 19th, 2013 in Business Diary

Ellen Phillips

A friend recently got hacked, and I'm scared I may be next. Any tips to help prevent this type of occurrence in the future? - Fred Frightened

Dear Mr. Frightened: Unfortunately, if we share anything digitally (email, Facebook, check online bank balances and so forth), we're in danger of being hacked by someone who creeps around waiting to pounce on unsuspecting folks.

However, according to Reader's Digest, five simple steps will help to avoid Mr. or Ms. Smarmy's clutches.

• Watch out what you share. Never post secure info that may also be used to protect security questions, such as mother's maiden name.

It's always a bad idea as such information can be too easily obtained -- birthdates and street address numbers, among others. And, God forbid, if you are hacked, immediately change your password.

• A strong password does the trick. According to sources, it takes only 10 minutes for a hacker's computer to guess a lower-case password made up of six letters.

Check www.safepasswd.com to come up with an almost unbeatable password made up of lower and uppercase, numerals and symbols. If you prefer phrases as passwords, look at www.passphra.se.

• Use two-step verification. Facebook and Gmail have this option whereby you are assigned a password that is a code accessed to your phone, plus your normal password.

For Gmail, click on account, then security. For Facebook, log in, click on the down icon next to Home. Then click on account settings, security, and login approvals.

• Be careful when using Wi-Fi spots. Readers Digest tells us that we're easily hacked when using T-Mobile and AT&T.

These two largest providers of free public wireless Internet, the kind found in coffee shops, restaurants, hotels and airports, don't require encryption between laptops and the Internet.

Obviously, personal info, such as passwords, bank account balance and others, are subject to being hacked. To prevent this from occurring in Windows, right click on the wireless icon in the task bar to turn it off. For a Mac, click the Wi-Fi icon in the menu bar to move the Wi-Fi.

• It's imperative to back up your data. Hackers have all kinds of ways in just moments to eliminate years of your information: emails, photos and documents.

To protect yourself, use a free backup system available on www.crashplan.com and www.dropbox.com.

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