How to avoid getting pwned in 2017

As we crack the surface of 2017 there’s a resolution we think should join the promises to workout more, eat less and be happier: change your passwords.

Truth be told, your password is just one change you should consider if you want to keep your information safe from ne’er do wells and the folks at Microsoft have outlined somethings users should be doing to be safer online.

Your password is your front door key to the services you use on the internet and as such it should meet a few criteria such as being eight characters long. It should be easy for you to remember but incredibly difficult for people and machines to guess. Folks should also avoid using single words such as “princess” says Microsoft because it makes it easier for people to guess.

Above all else, every password you use should be unique to avoid your password being stolen and then used to access everything from your Twitter account to your email.


This video from Computerphile offers a few handy tips on how to choose a safer password.

If you aren’t excited about the prospect of having to remember 50 unique passwords why not consider using an app such as LastPass which securely stores all of your passwords behind one master password. The service has a free option and can even generate secure passwords for the services you use.

Make it easy for yourself to regain control

Should you have the unfortunate experience of being hacked you’ll need to wrest back control of your account. The easiest way to do this is to have another way for the platform to insure you are you.

This can be done by including your mobile number and an alternate email address in your security settings so that in the event that you are hacked you can change your password without having to log into the compromised account.

That leads nicely into the next point: enable two-factor authentication.

Many services offer two-factor authentication and will send you an additional code via text message or email that you’ll need to enter before you can get into an account.


There are also authentication apps for services such as Steam which are tied to your phone and generate a random code you need to input. Some services even offer a physical token that you can use to generate a security code.


Before you lament how much of a chore updates are consider the effort you’ll have to go through should you unknowingly download malware that exploits the holes that updates often close.

On the subject of malware, make 2017 the year where you spend some money on a great security suite. Free software does the job but speaking from personal experience a paid for solution often offers you a greater degree of control and information.

Make sure to download updates and plug holes that might allow intruders in.

Malware is everywhere and a good security product will identify it and warn you before the software starts logging your keystrokes and beaming your information to hackers.


A healthy dose of suspicion

Cybercriminals are smart and thinking otherwise is downright dangerous. For that reason you should be approaching strange links and unexpected email attachments with a healthy amount of trepidation.

That’s not to say every attachment you’re sent contains a nasty virus but it’s safer to err on the side of caution and only open attachments you are expecting to receive. Malware can often be embedded in an attachment and simply opening it can infect your computer or smartphone.

If you aren’t sure about something contact your IT department, friend or family member that understands cybersecurity and ask them for help.

The backup plan

Set aside some time to back up all the information that you feel is incredibly important. It takes some time but should you be faced with having to format your PC to clear it of malicious software, having a back up of your most important information will save you a headache.

You can use cloud services (just make sure the password you use is secure) or a physical storage drive which might be better for larger files considering the high cost of data and the low speed of South African internet.

As a bit of a disclaimer nothing is 100% “hack-proof” and if somebody wants to get in they will find a way in. The aim of these hints is to make it harder for people to ruin your day and hopefully there’s a lot less of that happening this year.

[Image – CC BY SA 2.0 Blue Coat Photos]

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