Cyber Awareness: Building Barriers against Digital Demons

By on September 14, 2014

David Cecil —

Your birthday. Your mother’s maiden name. Your first pet. Qwerty, abc, 123456. PASSWORD.

It’s time to call out the absolute worst passwords of all time. Call them simple, insanely dumb, or a complete joke, but the truth is those examples wouldn’t be around if password users (i.e. anyone who doesn’t live under a rock in this digital age) hadn’t thought of them as safe and secure.

That said, what is even considered a good password? Certainly not what several celebrities used for their personal protection earlier this month in Apple’s iCloud, that’s for sure. Theft and use of private data is a constant threat in our Internet age, meaning protection should be just as constant a barrier in defense against these cyber attacks.

Brenda Gombosky, executive director of IT infrastructure for the IT technical support services at the University of Louisville, lays out several easy steps to take to improve your web security and lower the chances of becoming another digitized victim.


Password Sharing

This is major no-no in terms of building security.

Yes, your best friend pestering you into using your Netflix account is alright, until you realize what unsavory things they might watch. A few embarrassing film choices on your homepage may seem insignificant, though it shows you’re still held responsible for anything connected to your password. You, not your friend, have the digital shame of the latest Barbie movie – or worse — to bear. And, as Gombosky pointed out, if that password ends up being your link to the university or bank account, the consequences could be far more serious.


Password Use and Reuse

With as many social media groups, online banking sites, email addresses, and more that we have on the web, the desire to consolidate the number of passwords you have to recall is understandable. Remembering multiple lines of potential gibberish is a daunting idea.

That is until you notice how your entire framework has become a massive domino display for the Internet to stare and pick at. Gombosky voiced her concern for single passwords with the utmost clarity: fewer passwords spread across multiple platforms equals heightened chances of being compromised by a hacker’s attacks. “Never use your more important passwords anywhere else, such as Facebook,” Gombosky said. “These sites are more likely to get hacked and the perpetrator can then have access to all your credentials.”

More unique passwords instantly bring more security to your private data table. Even something as simple as the passcode system on smartphones and tablets in actual use bumps up defenses against attacks.


Password Choice and Pass Phrasing

Special characters like the ampersand (&), tilde (~), or anything you’d see when blotting out an expletive might seem odd at first, but they’re perhaps the best move in password creation. These make it harder for code-cracking software to find what their malevolent users want, instantly bringing more security to your data.

Gombosky advised that you spread them throughout the word or words chosen as your password, as it breaks up the otherwise easily noticed words that aforementioned software have in their systems to cross reference. “For every special character that you put into a password… it is remarkable the amount of time that it adds to the algorithm that it would take to break that password,” she said. This process, known as pass phrasing, mixes symbols and capitalization into your password, therefore providing you with longer, stronger codes to act as walls against cyber attacks.


Password Management

Lengthy pass phrasing and dozens of codes? How does someone have the time to memorize even two or three?

According to Gombosky, it’s relatively easy, as long as you have a password manager enabled. Simply put, the program acts as a filing cabinet for all your passwords. Once inputted into the system, you can categorize them into areas such as social media, banking, or e-mail, which then provides easy access. All that is necessary to recall is the primary password for the managing program, which should resemble a 17-car pile-up of QWERTY pad combinations.

Finding a password manager program is simple. An online search of notable services such as Dashlane, 1password, Keeper, and KeePass (which Gombosky personally recommended, as it is used in the University), will bring up sites where the applications are ready for download.


Strength Identification

Yes, after the daunting task of sitting down, downloading organization programs, and writing scrolls of potential gibberish on our computer screens, we are finally through with password safety, right?

Not quite. Sure, that passcode of #K*p~re/s might appear unbreakable to us, but it’s always great to have a second opinion. Luckily, the University’s IT security homepage offers a password security strength service. Just punch in the phrase you wish to use, and it will display whether you’ve put up a piece of soggy cardboard for your cyber defense, or have an intimidating barrier blocking any chance of bullying hackers getting into your personal accounts.

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