Saturday, my friend “Deb” made a strange post. I actually commented “Huh?” When a second strange post was made I texted her that I thought something was going on with her Facebook account. When she got back to me Saturday she said she was in Canada – she hadn’t made any posts over the weekend. Someone broke into her account.
You may say, “What’s the big deal, it’s just Facebook, she can delete those posts and it will be water under the bridge.” But consider the following:
• When someone breaks into your Facebook account, it means they have your e-mail username.
• If you use the same password for Facebook and e-mail accounts (and many people do), now they can log onto your e-mail. If you use a slight variation of the password you should also assume they’ll get in.
• Once they get in, they can get access to other accounts that could be connected to your credit card or financial information – like Amazon, PayPal, etc. – just by clicking on “forgot password.”
Experts say breaking into a Facebook account is just the first step to a serious break in.
Oh, and did you know? More than 2 million Facebook, Google and other accounts were recently compromised and circulated. Most were not US accounts, but sometimes it’s better to be safe than sorry.
What do you need to do to protect yourself?
The first thing to do is to determine which accounts are important to protect and which aren’t. Which ones are important? E-mail for sure. Any account that is connected your financial information (Social Security Number, bank accounts, credit cards, etc.). This may include Facebook, if you use the option to send gifts or if you buy other things there. You may also put accounts where people could mess up your reputation (like FB or Linked In) in this category.
Now that you know the important accounts, and it may be all of them, you should follow some security recommendations for these accounts.
• Do not use the same password for these accounts. Believe me, I know this is a pain – I counted mine this week, I have more than 50 distinct passwords. You can manage this in a few ways.
There are applications and programs called password safes/vaults that will store your accounts and passwords, and then you only need to remember one password to get into the safe. You can do a similar thing with word processors like Word – using security to set a password for that document. If you make a paper list, consider what you need to do to keep that secure – if it’s in your wallet and your wallet gets stolen, they have your passwords and you don’t.
• Have secure passwords. Of those 2 million accounts that were compromised, approximately 15,000 had a password of “123456”, 2000 used “password”, and 2000 used “admin”. Hackers know about these and they will try to guess if they get a chance.
Passwords should be at least 8 characters long. Use upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols; and mix up the order, “sCo0+erp!E” is better than “5cooterpiE”. Don’t use your name (or family members) or dictionary words – programs can crack these. Again, I know this is a pain – but make a game of it.
• Change your password “regularly”. There are many of opinions about this – some experts say you don’t need to change passwords, some say change them every three months. You need to go with what makes you comfortable. But if there’s ANY question that you’ve been compromised – just make the changes before someone uses your password. That includes that person looking over your shoulder as you typed in your password.
• If someone does break into your account, consider contacting the “service provider” – they may have records that can help track down who it was, if it comes down to that.
• You don’t have to follow any of these rules for those accounts that were less important. Use the same password, it can be simple and you can never change it. Unless you attach some important information (like credit card number) to that account – once you do, you need to assign a new password to that account.
One last thing that’s important, keep your computer secure. Make sure that you have security software on your computer and that it’s up to date. Be careful about opening links and attachments in e-mails. Use firewalls if you’re accessing public WiFi networks. There are ways that hackers can monitor you through your computer and then get access to your accounts.
Oh, how did “Deb” make out? I’m not sure. I gave her these same recommendations along with the one to keep a close eye on things for a while. Hopefully, we caught it in time.