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Password Protection Is the Key to Online Security


Passwords are like an online house key; they must be kept secure at all times. They should also be changed fairly frequently.

Password Key

In Part 1 of this four-part series about online security, we looked briefly at online scams. In Part 2, we talked about limiting e-mail spam. Avoiding scam and spam is important, and perhaps the most crucial component of both, and online security in general, is to make sure your passwords are secure.

Passwords are like an online house key; they must be kept secure at all times. They should also be changed fairly frequently. If you’re like me, you’ve got a dozen or more different log-ins and passwords for a dozen different websites and online accounts. Keeping track of them, and keeping them safe, can be a challenge, but this endeavor should be treated with the same seriousness you apply to not sharing a key to your home.

Creating a Good Password

Strong passwords contain a mix of numbers, letters (ideally both upper and lower-case), and, if a site accepts them, symbols. Your passwords should have personal relevance, but not too much! Your date of birth is available to hundreds if not thousands of people, as is your home address and the address of your physician practice.

Keeping Your Password Close

Sharing is great…for movie theater popcorn. Sharing your passwords is a recipe for trouble. If you share accounts with your spouse, make sure both of you practice good password security. A reputable retailer or financial organization will never ask for your log-in or password over an e-mail, neither to verify the account status or for any other reason. Online scams can be sophisticated, however. Some even include a link that takes you to a site designed to look like a reputable site, such as eBay. Use extra caution when clicking on any e-mail link, even if it looks legitimate.

Some digital security experts recommend writing your passwords down and keeping tight watch over that sheet of paper. This is risky, too, but may be necessary to keep up with all your different passwords. Why? Because it’s a very bad idea to keep your log-in and password the same for every single site. If discovered, nefarious operators will now have access to everything. If you do write all your passwords down, don’t leave that sheet near your computer or under your mouse pad. Really…don’t do this.

Managing Your Security

Although it will involve adding some extra steps every time you log in, take advantage of any additional authentication steps an e-commerce site may have. These may include a second password, security questions, voice recognition, or some real spy stuff, like finger-scanning and iris scanning, among many others. Any of these will add an important layer of security you may be thankful for later.

A Final Word

Good password security can involve online service, secure password generators, and eye scanners. But it doesn’t have to. Following the steps outlined above will protect you from the vast majority of online financial breaches.

In Part 4, we’ll look at what actions to take if you discover a problem with online security.

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
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