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Simple security steps for home and small business

Januerary 18th, 2019

We see, especially recently, more and more security related headlines in the news: Compromised accounts, be they bank, internet or even gaming account number.

The single most common cause of your security being compromised is simple, easy-to-guess passwords.

While there are a number of security devices out there that can move you towards more iron-clad security - for many reasons, some people may choose not - or not be able to - use them.

Here are a few methods you can use, whether you are a home user or a small business owner (I specify "small business", because any bigger and you really should be talking to an IT security specialist and not reading free advice off the 'net)

  1. Change your passwords regularly.
    The longer you use a password, the higher the chance it has of being intercepted or compromised. Ideally, once per week is an industry standard - In the regular person world - once per month is ok - but if you never change your passwords, then at least twice per year - when you should be changing the batteries in your smoke and CO detectors, upon daylight savings time and standard time changes (You do change your batteries, right ?
  2. Do not use simple words for passwords.

    Ideally, a random combination of numbers, letters - both upper and lower case - and symbols should be used.

    Again, for the every-day person, this is often not feasible, for the simple matter of not being able to remember them, so:

    • use a phrase or a sentence, rather than a single word ("MyDogIsReallyCute")
    • Substitute at least one character for a number - the most common are vowels
      "A" = 4
      "E" = 3
      "i" = 1
      "o" = 0
      so the passphrase, above, becomes "MyD0g1sR34llyCut3"
      or, at least, "MyDogIsReallyCut3"

      Add a number and/or symbol combination at the beginning or end:
      "MyDogIsReallyCut3003"
      or
      "$$MyDogIsReallyCut3"

  3. Do not use the same password across multiple sites: This is really tempting, for many, for the simple issue of not remembering multiple passwords - however; If one is compromised, then all are compromised, if you use the same password.
    At the very least and although not super-secure, at least use a variation of your password on multiple sites:
    For FaceBook: "$$MyDogIsReallyCut3"
    For email: "##MyD0gCanJump High!"
    For Instagram "%$MyDog3atsTooMuch!!!"
    Remember, though, that for sites where you stand to lose more, if they are compromised, such as banking, online stores where your credit card # is stored and the like: It is well worth it to use a harder to crack password. - After all - having someone take over your Facebook account can be inconvenient and embarrassing: Someone taking over your Visa or your investment account can be devastating.

  4. Regularly change the wireless password on your home network (You DO have a password on it, right ? )

    Working with local police, several years ago, I was told how distributors of child pornography will often cruise up and down local neighbourhoods with a laptop in their car, until they find a home wireless network without a password: When they found one, they would simply park on the road, outside the house and upload/download their content and then drive away: If the activity is caught, it is then traced back to the completely unsuspecting homeowner - often with devastating - and expensive - consequences.

These are not the be-all and end-all tips for Fort Knox like security - they are not meant to be - but merely as suggestions for those who may be using little to no security to up their game a little to make their lives a little safer.

Marc Bissonnette, Arnprior, Ontario, Canada

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