Blame it on the passwords. One commercial that is currently running on national television states that there is an attempted identity theft every 3 seconds. That’s 20 attempts per minute, 120 per hour and 2,880 each day. IT experts state that 80% of data breaches are due to a stolen or weak password. With all of that hacking into computers going on throughout the day, what’s a person, or company, or organization to do?
Don’t despair – because there are some things that anyone can do to reduce the amount of hacking while protecting their data, and they’re quite simple and often easy to implement. Using the latest security measures strengthens the safety of your data, and prevents you from becoming one of the 14.4 million victims of identity fraud that happened in 2019. And in 2021, Experian did a survey of 1,000 consumers, and 24% reported that they were a victim of identity fraud during the holiday.
Hunker Down and Stop the Hacking
As mentioned, stolen and weak passwords are behind 80% of data breaches, so that’s a good place to start. To prevent password theft, never leave your computer or device unattended. If you plan on logging on to the Internet using a public WiFi network, like the one you’d find at your favorite coffee shop, don’t do it. Instead, use a virtual private network, or VPN. That way hackers who are sitting at a table near you can’t see what you’re entering when you open up your computer. Some of the top ones are SurfShark, HotSport Shield and NordVPN.
Always use a strong password. That means one that’s at least 10 characters long, using a combination of numbers, letters and symbols. Plus, you’ll want to use a different one for every account that requires a password. Nobody wants to do this, as it takes a ton of time and effort. So, instead, use a password manager, like LastPass, 1Password and Dashlane, among many others.
But for the best in computer safety, use 2-factor authentication (2-FA), which is also called two-step verification. Here’s why: computer experts claim that 2-factor authentication can prevent 99.9% of hacking. That’s a huge number, and a huge safety net against hacking and, ultimately, identity theft. And while it requires some additional effort on your end, it’s worth it in terms of peace of mind.
A Closer Look at 2-FA
So, what exactly is 2-factor authentication (2-FA)? It’s a 2nd step – on top of your username and password. Often, it’s a code sent to your smartphone that you have to enter before gaining access to an account. This is called an “OTP” – or One Time Password. Unless the hacker is standing next to you and looking at your smartphone’s text screen, they won’t have any way in the world of getting your OTP.
An alternative to a texted code is an email sent with the code to a previously selected email account. Some services send a link instead of a code, which lets you avoid having to enter anything and takes you right to your account. One alternative that’s becoming more and more popular is “biometric authentication”. While it sounds scientific, it simply relates to things you already know, like facial recognition and fingerprint identification. Instead of a code, the software uses one or the other form of biometric ID to confirm that it’s you.
Here’s why it’s important to use 2-FA: let’s say a hacker successfully stole your username and password. Just as they’re about to enter into your accounts, they’re asked to enter the 2-FA code that was texted to “their” phone. Bottom line – they can’t. No code, no access, and that’s exactly why you want to use 2-FA.
People often ask if there are issues or problems with 2-FA, and the answer is, there are. Remember, adding 2-FA to your randomized password can help to stop 99.9% of hacking, so what’s the issue? Well, suppose you lose your smartphone, or it gets damaged to the point where it simply won’t work any longer. In this scenario, you’d be unable to access any account that requires 2-FA until you get your smartphone repaired or replaced. There are workarounds, but they’re very time-consuming and difficult.
If you chose to use email for code verification, you could be hacked. It’s not as secure as texting the code to your phone. Another problem – if the hacker has hacked your email account, they could easily gain access to other email-enabled accounts that you’ve set up as well. That is something you don’t want to happen, so the recommendation is texting rather than emailing that OTP.
Get an Authentication App
To make things easier for you, you can download a free app that generates a code for you, bypassing the texting and emailing process. For example, once you download Google Authenticator to your phone, you’ll be able to scan a QR code to gain entry to just about every 2-FA service or website. Microsoft has one as well, called Microsoft Authenticator, which uses push notifications and also offers passwordless logins.
Some social media sites like Facebook and shopping sites like Amazon have their own versions of the authentication process. Facebook, like others, is only used to authenticate entry to Facebook, while Amazon lets you use third-party support or its own authentication process – just for Amazon.
Whether it’s facial recognition, fingerprints or authentication apps, there are many choices available to you with regard to 2-FA. The next time you open a website or download a service and you’re asked if you’d like to enable 2-factor authentication, say “yes” for the safety of your computer data.