alex kotliarskyi QBpZGqEMsKg unsplashHackers. They’re not the lazy, shiftless people you might picture; kids sitting in their basement, eating cheese curls and using local internet to break into their neighbors’ systems for a lark and taking your information to steal money from you.

Instead, picture a small office. It might be in a garage but it might be in an actual office building. Several people sit at computers working as a call center, using either phone calls or computer programs to remote access your computer and get your personal information: bank account numbers, sure, but also social security numbers and birthdates as well as kids’ and pets’ names (A majority of computer users will use names of children and pets as part of their password or email address, which leaves a big door into your private information.).

As an aside, picture that office in Russia since a fair percentage of cybercrime originates there.

You might think hackers have no real interest in individuals, but that’s definitely not the case. Insider estimates believe between 50 and 75% of users have been or will be the victim of hackers. Some hackers don’t really care about your information as much as they do about making money. In the unregulated depths of what’s known as the Dark Web, the information of a person with a high credit score can be worth $60 to $80 for a hacker.

You can reduce your chances of being a target in several different ways.

ALWAYS have a password on your computer and DON’T store it on your system. The harder it is to get into your system, the less likely you’ll be a target. Make that password as difficult as possible; don’t use names or numbers that have significance in your life and might be guessed by someone who sees your info on the web. Words that have no distinct meaning to you are good, but totally random letters and numbers are best. Never use a password twice. The more often you use a password, the more ways someone can find a way into your system.

Random passwords are a pain to remember, which is kind of the point. In order to make sure you can access your own accounts, I HIGHLY recommend a diary or journal. They’re easy to get and can prove invaluable in keeping your passwords where you can find them.

By the same token, it’s also important to

  1. not label your book on the outside.
  2. not keep it anywhere near your computer. Keep it in another section of the room at least, but preferably hide it in another part of the house where it’s less likely to be found. That way, if someone breaks into your home and steals your computer, they don’t take your book with accounts and passwords with them.

Changing your passwords on a semi-regular basis can also help keep intruders out of your files.

Security questions are used at a lot of websites to help you remember your password. Most times, using them is optional but some websites insist you use them. The best thing you can do is use answers that make no sense. For instance, a friend uses answers that usually are people or foods that he absolutely can’t stand.

An important corollary to this is to beware of what you say on social media. Common questions and threads that come up on sites like Facebook and Twitter ask what was your first car/what was the first concert you attended/what’s your favorite food, etc. Not surprisingly, those are common answers for security questions and people watch for those questions hoping to get the information they can use to hack systems. Never give your answers to questions away.

Next time, we’ll tackle the more technical ways you can protect your system, and impart some pretty sad truths.

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