Nobody’s Hack-Proof, But You Can Make it More Difficult
Just as no one’s home is fully immune to theft, no person or company’s digital data can be completely safe from hackers. The only thing to do is make their job extremely difficult.
That’s the message Dr. Hossein Saiedian drove home to the audience at the Edwards Campus during his recent Professional Edge seminar titled “Data Encryption in Simple Terms.” He elaborated on a key point from his talk for readers of Higher Ed. The takeaway: Good passwords are the secret to security and privacy.
“I won’t even check webmail at McDonald’s,” says Saiedian, who serves as an associate chair for the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) program in the KU School of Engineering. “The most I’ll do on any public network is browse the Internet.”
Most of us never think twice about typing in our usernames and passwords at a coffee shop, in the library, at the airport … We check email, shop and check bank accounts.
That’s a big no-no, says Saiedian, so long as a laptop, tablet or smartphone is connected to a public Wi-Fi network. “Whatever you type is public. It’s in the air, for anyone to grab,” he says.
A wireless router protected by a password and proper security protocols will encrypt whatever data it receives and sends. But data, such as a password, must first travel to the router through often unprotected air space. Saiedian says to make it as cryptic as possible.
An Inconvenient Code
The problem with most passwords is people make them easy to remember. Chances are they contain characters and code that a crook can conveniently crack. Short and simple, with common names and words, is asking for trouble.
Saiedian recommends the following for a strong password:
- eight or more characters, with a combination of lower- and uppercase letters, numerals and special symbols
- an obscure phrase that’s easily remembered by you but difficult for others to guess
It can be easier to create and remember than one might think. For instance, “Icw82Cmd!” can stand for “I can’t wait to see my dog!” Or, “Mocbd=0520” can be remembered by “My older child’s birthday = May 20.”
One Size Shouldn’t Fit All
Many of us are guilty of using the same username and/or password for a number of different logins. Another worst practice, Saiedian says.
“No one would use the same physical key for a home, vehicle, office and safe. That would make it easy for someone to steal everything you had,” he says. “Yet, it’s exactly what many people do online.”
Not only should we use different passwords for every account, they should be changed regularly. It’s adding another degree of difficulty to a hacker’s attempt to decipher your personal or business code.
Because, as Saiedian emphasizes over and over, “Unless stronger encryption protocols are used, anything can be decrypted. It comes down to the amount of effort required.”
Make your passwords difficult, and hackers are more likely to move on to an easier code to crack.