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GoLocal Tech: Keeping Yourself Safe Online Part 2

Thursday, August 30, 2012

 

Last week, we started to apply some of the lessons learned from Matt Honan’s epic hacking. We looked at a few ways that you can create passwords that are hard to crack. Now onto the real reasons that Matt lost the pictures of his daughter’s first year. (Good news: The smart people at DataSavers were able to recover Matt’s photos from his hard drive.)

To reiterate, the choice between security and convenience is one that each of us needs to make. Our understanding of online security is that most folks know what to do and choose not to do those things. We’re inconsistent as human beings in all kinds of ways. That’s what makes us interesting.

Account Verification Information

In Matt’s case, Apple’s processes were broken and allowed the hackers to get his password without real verification. A few years ago, Sarah Palin’s email was hacked because she used publicly available information as the answer to a security question: Where did she meet her husband? (The answer is in Wikipedia.)

To avoid this trap, either create your own security question and answer, using something esoteric, or use a fake answer to a standard question.
For your mother’s maiden name, use a grandmother’s maiden name or Heath (Sarah Palin’s maiden name). Don’t worry. They don’t check to see if it’s true. They only want to you to answer the question correctly.

Alternatively, add an adjective that only you know. For example, if you grew up on Lake Street, use Lazy Lake Street. Again, they’re not going to check.

Backups

Matt lost the pictures because the bad guys could remotely wipe the contents of his system. (Eventually, he did recover the pictures, but it was a painful process.) He had backed up his files online using Apple’s iCloud service, but only there.

Use a belt-and-suspenders approach to backups. Back up to multiple destinations. Use an automated service because you will not always remember to back up to an external destination.

Back up to a local drive using Time Machine or other automated backup service and back up to an online service such as Crash Plan, Carbonite, or one of the many cloud-based services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, or iCloud.

Putting files only on a flash drive is ok, but it is no substitute for a backup process. The day that your hard drive crashes is also the day that you do the laundry with the flash drive still in your pants pocket.

I use all of these products on my systems or my customers’ systems.

Account Recovery Options

Google, Facebook, and other services allow you to specify an alternate email address where login information can be sent in the case that you forget your password or otherwise feel that your account is in trouble.

You can also have those sites send an authorization code to your cell phone.

Google and others also offer what is called two-factor authentication. Typically, you’ll need to enter a password and PIN when you log in on a new device. Many people recommend two-factor authentication, including people I respect. I don’t use it because a) many mobile apps don’t support it and b) it is inconvenient.

Turn on Notifications

Most sites, including Google, Amazon, and Facebook, will notify you if your password or other personal information changes. Use those features.

Finally …

If you only do three things, you’ll go a long way to make your online experience safer:

• Never use the same email/password for multiple sites. 
Find a way to keep unique passwords for each site. You can use a scheme such as the one I discussed last week or use a product such as LastPass.

• Turn on email and cellphone notifications for your important accounts (Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, banks, etc.)

• Always back up your files to more than one location, at least one of which is online.

You can do more, much more, if you choose, but these few steps will keep you busy for now. If Matt Honan had done these things, he probably would have avoided the damage resulting from being hacked.  

 

Karl Hakkarainen is an IT and social media consultant at Queen Lake Consulting. His grandchildren still ask for his help and advice about computers and related technology.

 

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