Securing your online accounts

There have been a spate of high profile CEO accounts being hacked lately. The latest to have fallen victim is Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. Other notable accounts include Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg.

Sunday, 17th July 2016, 5:01 pm
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 2:33 am
JPCT 150713 Alan Stainer. Photo by Derek Martin

Now in Sundar and Mark’s case, both accounts were on third party sites (Quora and LinkedIn respectively). What sets the latest hack apart from the rest is that it happened on Twitter to the Twitter CEO.

Now all of this may not affect you in your day to day use of the internet. Afterall, not everyone is a high profile executive of a multinational company. That doesn’t mean you are immune to hackers, or identity theft and it highlights that even those with hordes of security teams at their disposal can still be victims too.

There are some very simple and basic things you can do to protect yourself. The most obvious is making sure you use unique passwords for different websites that are sufficiently complex to make them difficult to guess. Don’t use birthdays. Don’t use the names of family members or pets. If you do use a word or phrase, make sure you change some of the letters for either numbers or special characters.

There are password management systems out there, which mean you don’t need to remember every single password under the sun. If you use one, make sure you have a complex password for it! I don’t use one myself, as I remain suspicious about putting all my eggs in (another) online basket, but I know lots of people that use them regularly.

Another option to consider is two factor authentication for sites that allow it. When enabled you get a verification code sent to your phone (either via SMS or an app) whenever you try to login to your account. That means if someone does manage to figure out your password, they still cannot get into your account without your phone. Now you may be thinking, “What if I get mugged?” Well, if that happens you probably have greater concerns than your Twitter account being hacked!

I touched upon identity theft just now, which is a broader subject than simply being hacked. There are things you can do to minimise the risks, like keeping information about yourself online to a minimum. Nothing is ever foolproof however and by our nature we share information all the time (both on and offline). If you are worried or suspicious about activity on a bank account for instance, then speak with your bank straight away. The same goes for your phone company, or any utility company or service you use.

After taking on board all of the warnings and stories of identity theft and high profile hacks, remember that it is still relatively rare to become a victim. Obviously these things get media attention as bad stories do, but it doesn’t mean we should all be running for the hills or burying our heads in the sand. Just make sure you take precautions and you will most likely stay safe.