Avoid a digital nervous breakdown: Protect your passwords
The view from the cockpit of SWIL-icious Global Enterprises. Both feet on the ground, hands on the keyboard, the passport, Powerball ticket and cigarettes at the ready. And of course, “Black Monday” plus my birthday party invitation. Life is good!
Do you know how many passwords you need to run your online life?
Until a few weeks ago, I didn’t. I still haven’t had time to count because I am so busy re-setting them all.
We are so all connected these days, over time we forget just how dependent we have become on access to the online world. Banking, email, stock quotes, movies on demand … the list is endless and growing exponentially.
Yes, there may be apps that help one manage the many user names, passwords and answers to secret questions, but if you are like most, it is a low priority to learn how to properly secure your data.
Would you leave the front door open at night, with the car keys sitting on the porch table?
That, in essence, is what I did. The result has been traumatic.
Just over four weeks ago, suddenly and without warning I lost access to an iMac that was my main productivity tool for the past six years. Sitting in a WORD file, not concealed at all – except for the somewhat humorous name of the file that might, at least momentarily, have delayed any snoops: “The gates of hell” – were all my user names, passwords and secret question answers, plus the URL for each account.
There wasn’t even time to put the file in the trash, but don’t be fooled: even deleted files are recoverable, and many know how to do it.
Fortunately – or foolishly – there is an almost-up-to-date copy of the same file on the computer I am using to write this blog post
It has become my custom, whenever opening a new online account (and so many sites these days require a minimum of an email address and password) to add the access data to the WORD document. How else could one possibly keep track?
Darn. There has to be a better way.
It’s not only the account access data, however, that requires resetting when a security breach occurs.
In the Mac world, and possibly even for PC users, all of one’s devices can be connected through the Cloud. This is an amazing advance for its efficiency, ease of use, mobility and accessibility.
When one enters a contact phone number on an iPhone, the same data soon appears in the address book on the iMac, on the notebook and on the iPad. And vice versa. (I have all four of those; they are connected through iCloud.)
But, as with so much modern technology, the convenience comes at a price, though the cost is not at all obvious to the novice user.
With all four devices, one now has to reenter the new user names and passwords for each account – sometimes, more than once. This has to be done on both ends: at the web site of the bank, email service provider or any password-protected site, and on the device.
Don’t forget the web does not respond instantaneously. Data is stored in server farms around the globe, so sometimes it can take up to two days for the new account access codes to propagate to all servers; if you are too impatient, you may hit one that has not yet updated and be denied access.
Don’t keep hitting the “send” button! This has already happened to me. Many sites allow only three or four unsuccessful attempts at access; then they lock down the account.
One then has to call tech support, and endure endless voice mail prompts before one can reach a human being, who may just cost an arm and a leg.
Keeping track of which accounts have been updated, and what the new passwords are is another chore. Security enhancements now require combinations of alphanumeric characters, some are case sensitive (requiring both upper and lower case) and many are asking for a sequence of eight or more characters.
Then there are the prohibited characters. My brokerage firm, without any obvious warning to the customer, does not allow the first character of the password to be a numeral. After perhaps an hour trying to figure out why my new password was being rejected, a 15-minute call to tech support finally provided the answer.
There are almost daily reports of major data security breaches at financial institutions, media (even The New York Times had one) and secure (duh!) government installations. If not even the U.S. Defense Department can keep 250,000 secret State Department cables from falling into the hands of Wikileaks, how can an individual survive in this digital jungle?
It’s definitely not a cakewalk.
You have been warned!
This post is dedicated to James W. P. who has endured much on my behalf. Thank you, Jim. I beg your forgiveness.