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Over Easy: Friday Free for All

Facebook Cat How many of you use the same logon ID and password for more than one online account? Do you working folks have your password written on a sticky note inside your desk drawer or taped to your monitor? Who uses a password that’s a word in the dictionary, your birthday month, a favorite sports team, a spouse’s or child’s name, your street name, your family pet? If you’ve switched email providers (for example, from Hotmail to Gmail), did you simply abandon your old account without deleting it? And don’t even get me started on what people do on Facebook!

I do so much electronically that last winter when I lost connectivity for a few days, I was nearly frantic thinking of what I couldn’t get at. I do all of my banking online, receive and pay all of my bills, prepare and file my income tax returns, keep my appointment calendar, make many purchases on Amazon or eBay, pay for them with PayPal, and communicate with friends and family via email or Facebook. I wouldn’t have it any other way now, but it requires a higher level of cyber-awareness and personal protection.

Although my career was in information technology, I confess I was, until recently, guilty of some of the things I asked about in the intro. A couple of hacking incidents last summer, affecting Wired’s Mat Honan and The Atlantic’s James Fallows, with devastating results that received a fair amount of publicity, made me wake up to how exposed I was. I promptly took precautions to make my online activities much more safe. It is impossible to be totally safe online, but we can make it considerably more difficult for someone to gain access to our personal information, just by investing a bit of time and effort. Here are some Web sites with good information (and I hope your eyes don’t glaze over with too much geekspeak).

Protect Your Privacy Online has definitions of common cyber security terms, and lists several suggestions for protecting yourself (and your children) from online predators.

Follow some simple guidelines for creating and managing your passwords. We have finite brain cells to keep track of multiple logon IDs and passwords, so consider using a password manager like LastPass (free and very secure) to generate complex passwords and keep track of them for you. And then protect your LastPass “vault” with a complex password/passphrase. I’ve used a memorable (to me) four-word phrase, substituted numbers and symbols for many letters and used a combination of lower and upper case to “spell out” the phrase. It’s probably not hack-proof, but it’s pretty darned secure.

Two-factor authentication provides an extra level of security, because it requires two different means of identifying you before permitting access to your accounts. It uses both something you know, like a password or PIN, combined with something you possess, like your cell phone. After you enter your password, you’ll receive a code on your phone via text message, and only after you enter the code will you get into your account. You can now use two-factor authentication to protect your password manager software, your Facebook and Google/Gmail accounts, and several other places you’re vulnerable.

If you use Facebook, “like” Facecrooks and you’ll be kept current on Facebook scams, privacy concerns, etc. One of their best posts recently is How to Lock Down Your Facebook Account for Maximum Privacy and Security. Since Facebook seems to tweak things regularly that affect your privacy, it’s a good idea to check your settings frequently. And if your offspring are teens who use Facebook, make sure they have their accounts protected, and do insist that they give you full privileges to see what they’re posting! I discovered that my college-freshman grandson had a very naive understanding of what can happen to his Facebook posts! (“But Grandma, only my FRIENDS could see that!”)

Get Safe Online has a wealth of information (do hover your cursor over the topics across the top of the page).

Hopefully if you’ve followed even a few of the links, you’re prepared to tackle making your cyber life more secure. And feel free to ask questions or share experiences in the comments. This is, after all, Friday Free for All!

Photo: Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Author: olga.palma

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I retired from the University of Notre Dame in the Office of Information Technology in 2010. I'm divorced, with two grown children and 8 grandchildren. I'm a lifelong liberal and a "nonbeliever."