On Passwords, Backups, and Encryption

The Passwords

It’s always worth mentioning again the importance of having a strong password in favor of one that’s easy to remember. Your personal information should never be something you risk for the sake of convenience, especially when your credit history and personal savings can be put at risk. Just keep in mind that a strong password does not necessary mean a complicated string of unrelated letters, numbers, and symbols. Unless you’re protecting sensitive government information, your password can have special significance to you, and yes, you should include different cases, numbers, and symbols. These types of passwords are almost ubiquitous in most sites that require you to create an account. No, they’re not there to discourage you from joining or make the process unbearable. These precautions are put in place with the very specific purpose of protecting your personal information. The problem is people tend to input the very minimum to meet the requirements, nullifying the original intent of privacy and Internet safety! Just take a look at the 25 most common passwords of 2013 from CBS and you’ll see what I mean. Keep in mind that even simple passwords can be made more difficult to decipher. The word “password”, for example, can be written as “P@5sW0rD”. Here we capitalize the letter “P”, use the “@” symbol to represent “A”, use TWO separate characters for “S”, and a zero for the letter “O”. Combine this with the rule “Every other regular letter has to be capitalized”, and a once simple (and most common) password is now one that is far more difficult to crack. For the sake of clarification, never use the word “password” in any way, shape, or form. Pick something with personal significance and add a string of numbers that you’d always remember, like the month and day of your children’s birthdays.

Note: Be wary of any Internet service that will send you your password if you click the “I forgot my password” button. If they do, it means your actual password is on file somewhere, which means that it can be stolen. Any website worth its salt will have a “Reset your password” function, which means that the passwords you choose are heavily encrypted, and not even the owner of the website knows what it is. Here’s a video explaining how that works:

The Backup System

The Cloud is the latest technology for securing important data, and many tech companies have jumped on board. They claim that by putting your storage space online and separate from your device, that device can be made smaller or have room for other emerging technologies, causes less environmental damage, and runs faster. But how safe is your data? Many people were quick to claim a failure in Apple’s iCloud services for the recent theft and distribution of many celebrities’ private photographs. According to Apple, the iCloud system was not breached; the data was stolen by targeting the username, password recovery, and security questions. Keep in mind that this isn’t anything new! This has always been the very first step in stealing passwords and identities online! It is by far the simplest and most effective method. So what does it come down to? STRONGER PASSWORDS! This cannot be stressed enough! If you’re constantly paranoid about your photographs and personal data, you can always opt for the original method of storing your data: external hard drives. You can keep a backup of your computer on it, and while it may require you to periodically update it manually, the only way that data can be stolen is if you are careless online (say with poor passwords) and somehow allowed a virus into your main computer, or if someone broke into your home and stole your computer and/or hard drive. In which case you can protect yourself with encryption programs.

The Encryption Method

Encrypting your computer might seem like you’re going a little too far, but for those who are absolutely serious about keeping their data safe from prying eyes, it’s an absolute necessity. With free-to-use programs like TrueCrypt (no longer maintained), you can encrypt your entire computer or partition the drive so that sensitive information cannot be accessed without the proper password or key. Even if someone did get their hands on your machine or hacked into it externally, the data you’ve encrypted would be useless and all but impossible to decipher. Whether or not your data is important enough for this safety measure is entirely up to you.