Monday, September 21, 2009

Getting Your Feet Wet: Things to Keep In Mind

Almost every time I visit my parents' house, I'll help them with some sort of computer-related task. Now, I'm not a professional when it comes to computers, but there's still a lot of things I can help with. As more and more of the "baby boomer" generation come online, and computers become a bigger part of their every day lives, the more certain people want to take advantage of them. This blog is here to help those who are still beginners when it comes to computers get savvy- and stay safe online.

Some key points right off the bat: There's money to be made off the internet. It can go to advertisers, but it can also go to spammers and hackers. If you make an effort to stay safe on the internet, you will be miles ahead of the people who are careless, and can avoid many of the pitfalls some people face before they get savvy. If you read nothing else on this blog, read the rest of this post for the top issues I see for baby boomers who are new to the web, and it will save you a lot of potential trouble:

Savvy Special One: Passwords.

What happens when they're all the same?

I know they can be hard to remember. I know it might be tempting to just put in your favorite pet's name and use it for everything. But I also know this is making those unscrupulous hacker's jobs a piece of cake. I at one time was a person who used the same password for everything, but luckily I changed this habit before it got me into trouble. Don't see the harm? Let me -savvify you.....

There was something on the internet a while back: people posting a picture of someone's Facebook page of a woman who accidentally posted what she intended as a private message about having sex with a blind date on her Facebook wall for ALL her friends to see. While everyone got a kick out of this, it turned out to be a bit of a hoax. The woman hadn't actually posted anything. A HACKER had done it. Why? Because she used the same password for an online dating website, her email and her Facebook account. The hacker just needed to find her online dating profile and look into the email associated with it, and attacked her Facebook wall. They did this to many, many people. Aside from total embarrassment, this might not seem so bad. But what if her online banking account used the same password?

So now you're thinking maybe you should have a different password for everything. But that's a lot of passwords to remember! Maybe if you make them all easy, remember ten different ones won't be so bad.

What happens when they're easy to guess?

Think about how much information might be posted about you on the internet- on job websites, social networking, online banking, etc. Do you really want to risk someone being able to guess what your password is? Nope. Here's some tips for making secure passwords:

1. Make it at least 8 characters long.
2. Use a variety of types of characters, ie. CAPITAL LETTERS, lowercase letters, numbers and punctuation (although some sites might limit which characters you are allowed to use).
3. Don't include full words of any kind, or any part of your login name.

This might seem excessive, but spending and extra ten minutes coming up with a password could save you.

Wait- I'm supposed to be able to remember five different passwords that are weird like "gD854^)$vqd" ?

Yes, and there's no easy way to break it to you. I know that it can aslo be tempting to click that little "remember me" box when you're at home, just so you only have to type that crazy long password-thingy once! But look at it this way- if you only type it once how will you ever remember it? My tip is to NOT use any sort of password storing options until you are sure you have the password memorized. Even if this means you have to have the password written down and you have to look at it and type it in the first twenty times you use it, this is better than having your computer store it for you.

When I create my passwords, there are still a few things I do to make it a little easier for me to remember them. Humans are best at memorizing things when they are in groups of 5-7, so you can always memorize a 10 character password in two batches of 5, and that will help you memorize it more quickly.

But I've heard people tell me to never write my passwords down!

Many people will tell you never to write down your passwords, but sometimes you can get away with this, just make sure you keep them written down in a safe place that, if someone broke into your house, they wouldn't be able to find and say "oh awesome I can now hack this person's everything!". Write them down in a booklet that you keep in a fire-proof safe, for instance. And once you have the passwords memorized, you shouldn't need it. Another reason, aside from memory, that you'll want to have your passwords accessible to your loved ones is in an emergency situation. Although this isn't great to think about, if something happens to you it could be very beneficial for your spouse to be able to go into the safe, get your booklet, and log in to your email or your online bank account (perhaps to make a bill payment or find someone's contact information you need).

Well- that's pretty much the basics when it comes to passwords. Just remember that safety is key. If you have a secure password, you will be ahead of the game in keeping your identity secure on line. The less you have to stress about your online security, the more you can enjoy your time on the internet! I hope this convinced you to think about your passwords, and that you feel more savvy. Tune in next time for my next "Top Issue"

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