Nearly all of us have been victims of cybercrime — or know someone who was.
Digital financial theft, including phishing, ransomware and public Wi-Fi hacks, hit close to half of all Americans in 2020, according to account verification company Giact Systems, based in McAllen, Texas. This year the cost of cybercrime is expected to soar to $7 trillion worldwide, says Cybersecurity Ventures, a research firm in Northport, New York.
The problem is almost enough to make you want to unplug. Instead, take a breath.
Even with hackers and other cybercriminals banging at your firewalls, the internet can be navigated relatively safely. To keep your information safe and your financial accounts protected, security comes down to a few basic boxes to tick, with strong passwords topping the list.
We know we should take those hated passwords seriously, but most of us do them wrong. We do dumb things like reuse them or choose obvious terms like a pet’s or child’s name when we should make them at least seven characters long and a combination of letters, numbers and symbols.
Crooks are way ahead of us, able to guess our passwords based on clues we leave behind as we zoom around online. With the average person having to keep track of dozens of passwords, it’s no wonder we take shortcuts and get in trouble.
Enter the password manager
LastPass, one of the biggest password manager firms, began offering its solution in 2009, and rival Keeper started in 2011. Buy an annual subscription for about $35 to $90 and these digital lockboxes store your passwords securely and will also create difficult-to-crack passwords for you. In addition to Keeper and LastPass, Bitwarden, Dashlane and 1Password are among the popular choices. They are widely seen as safe, and computer security specialists uniformly say that with hacking on the rise, everyone should use one.
But most of us don’t. Security expert Roger Grimes says about 1 percent of the population buys a subscription to a password manager. This means most of us are sticking with home remedies — writing them down on a piece of paper stashed in a drawer, storing them in a document on a computer or relying on memory. So most of us remain vulnerable.
Help keep your data secure
1. Use a password manager
2. Use a different password for every website and service
3. Don’t use the same root password, merely adding numbers or symbols to make it different
4. Use passwords that are long and difficult to guess
A third option exists, as cheap as writing down the passwords, and, according to some experts, as safe as the paid alternatives. These are free password managers, built into the browsers from tech giants Apple, Google and Microsoft. Mozilla’s Firefox also offers one. According to a study published in 2017, 18 percent of the population was using those. Bitwarden, Dashlane, Keeper and LastPass also offer free versions of their managers with scaled-down services.