With the news filled with story after story of password hacking, login hijacking, “Phishing” and the continued hacks made on websites, many individuals and small companies are looking to improve security online. There is no surefire, 100% safe way to ensure security online. However, there are several simple things that can be done to improve your security and provide a disaster recovery plan if your information is hacked.

Default Passwords Are Bad
Many people use the default passwords that come with their equipment from cell phone voicemail passwords to home security systems. Change them immediately when you receive phones, security systems, computers or new bank cards. Use the Alpha codes on your keypad to make the password memorable for your use but nonsensical to any unauthorized users. Changing these passwords vary by device so check with the user manual or contact technical support to find instructions on how to change these passwords.

Change Passwords on a Regular Basis
Most businesses require passwords be changed on a regularly scheduled basis and automatically inform the user when their password is about to expire. This is a good idea to take into your personal Internet use. Set a calendar reminder on the scheduling application of your choice to change your online passwords on a regular schedule. This can limit exposure should your password be breached as you may have already changed the password.

Create Strong Passwords
Many workplaces require that passwords change regularly and there may be rules for complexity (Upper Case, Lower Case, Number and Special Characters). The first step in securing online access is to assess your passwords and look for easy to guess passwords such as phone numbers, child names, birthdates or pet names. Use a spreadsheet to inventory all of your common websites, usernames and passwords as stage one of securing your online world.

Once the inventory is complete its time to create a secure password. You can generate a new password logic that will provide a sufficiently complex password with some variation with each website. 
• Pick a phrase or saying that you can easily remember such as “Forty-two, The ultimate answer to the ultimate question” 
• Change any number words in the phrase to digits and capitalize important words. Condense the phrase by using the first letter of each word or syllable
o This would be 42UAttUQ
• Replace several letters with special characters (such as :!,@,#,$,%,^,&,*,(,),~,{, and ]) basically any of the non-Alphanumeric keys on your keyboard
o !42UQttU?
• Ensure that your new password meets the security requirements discussed earlier and is memorable. You may need to store your password in a secure location until you memorize it

Use a Password Manager
Password managers, which are used for managing, updating and assisting in developing strong passwords, are a great resource for a user struggling with remembering password. There are several password managers available. Some examples are:
• KeePass (http://keepass.info/
• 1Password (http://bit.ly/pSFlHO
• LastPass (http://bit.ly/rjHoAZ

Each of these provide management tools for keeping passwords organized and give advice on creating secure passwords and maintaining a secure presence online. I’ve used URL Shorteners above to make the links more streamlined but you can also use a search engine to find these and many more password managers.

Website Applications
In addition to securing your passwords also make sure that you take care what functionality you allow on social media sites such as Facebook. It is very easy to have an inadvertent click of the mouse result in spam or potentially malicious links going to your “Friends” or contacts so exercise care when clicking on any link that looks suspicious.
Within Facebook, users should also regularly check and audit the list of approved “Applications” or Third Party Plugins in use to make sure that you have granted access to only those sites you wish to have access to your online presence. 
• To audit your approved applications go to: http://www.facebook.com/help/settings/?tab=privacy#!/settings/?tab=privacy
• Choose the “Edit your Settings” link under the apps and Websites section
• Click on the “Edit Settings” Link under Apps you use
• Change any settings or remove unwanted apps as needed.
You can adjust many of your settings in Facebook to improve security which I’ll address in another article in the near future on securing your online profile.

While there is no perfect system for protecting your resources in the Internet, there are things that can be done to limit your exposure to hackers and ensure privacy. There are so many options out there for Security purposes so it’s hard to cover the entire spectrum in one article, but this should set the groundwork for better internet security.

Hiram Knickerbocker is an Implementation Engineer and IT Coordinator for PITT OHIO GROUND. Contact him at hknickerbocker@pittohio.com or 412.232.3015 x6493.