Business

Is it the death of the password?

I'VE talked a lot in my recent columns about security and hacking because I believe people need to take more action, both professionally and personally, to protect their digital footprint. While we may all be aware that online hacking takes place every day, the majority of people are still of the opinion that it will never happen to them.

Since the beginning of the digital age, people have signed up to passwords in the hope of securing their various accounts, including social media, online banking, emails and even shopping. A lot of our lives are stored online and this is a development that people don't think about.

Fifty years ago, the American electrical engineer Gordon E. Moore made a prediction which would come to have a profound impact on people's expectations about technology. Writing in Electronics magazine in April 1965, he suggested that as advances were made, the power of the average computer processor would double every year. With this theory in mind, every two years the amount of time it takes to crack a password halves. So much so, that is has reached the point where a password can be cracked in minutes, sometimes in as little as six seconds.

People tend to use the same passwords for all of their accounts. In an attempt to protect themselves, others use long and complex passwords made up of numbers, symbols and lower and upper cases. While this does slow the hacker down, it does not always stop them. Regrettably when choosing a complicated password there is a tendency to write them down which is not advisable.

Let's look at online retailing giant Amazon as an example. They are just one of many companies who store their customers accounts containing personal and bank details. Only last month Amazon sent emails to some of its users to ask them to reset their passwords after learning that they might have been exposed to a third party security breach.

The breach report followed news that Amazon is enabling two-step verification, allowing users to log in via a one-time password sent to their phone, or by using an authenticator app. This is a positive move by Amazon following other online retailers such as Apple, eBay and Facebook in offering this extra layer of security. For example, the Apple ID you use to sign in to iCloud requires you to verify your identity using one of your devices in addition to entering your password. You enter your Apple ID and password as usual, Apple sends a verification code to one of your devices and you enter the code to verify your identity and finish signing in.

Now turning to the individual, it always pays to be cautious about phishing messages as hackers regularly send rogue email links to gain people's personal information. Make sure you don't click on any unexpected emails, from any of your online accounts, and bear in mind it is always better to go straight to the site and change your password there if you have been requested to do so.

There are a number of ways you can make your passwords more secure – mix up where the capital letters are; if you are going to use a word separator don't use the hyphen all the time but use a range of symbols to separate words and extend the length of the password to become a passphrase.

If you struggle to remember your various passwords, consider using a password manager which serves as a secure place to store all of your passwords so you don't have to remember them. They increase your security by not allowing you to put the right password in the wrong site (i.e. a phishing site) or giving your passwords away to a hacker.

Finally, don't be of the opinion that it won't happen to you. Hackers know how to break into systems and are getting quicker and more sophisticated at it every day. Make sure you regularly kept check of your accounts and passwords so that you do your best to combat any security breaches on your passwords and accounts.

:: Eric Carson is director of Rainbow Communications and can be contacted via www.rainbowcomms. com. Rainbow Communications can also be followed on Twitter - @ Rainbow_Comms.

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