It’s holiday time and you may still be wondering, “What should I get [fill in a name] for Christmas this year?” In this post, I’ll make the case that instead of purchasing a physical item for others in your family, you should give the gift of DIGITAL SECURITY. Depending on what password manager solution you choose, this gift could be free or cost as much as $60 per year for a family of five. This is a small price to pay for the EXTREMELY important (and tangible) peace of mind which comes from knowing you’re doing everything you reasonably can to keep your digital accounts safe from criminals and hackers. If you factor in the time, money, and stress which can be involved in the resolution of identity theft, the steps you take after reading this post could literally be priceless. Read on and prepare to take action.
Last week’s technology news included the stunning headline that over 1 BILLION Yahoo email accounts were hacked back in 2013. This is the largest data breach ever revealed in the history of our planet, but it follows an ever increasing number of security breaches affecting numerous websites, companies, and individuals. Ask the collected faculty at your school who knows someone who has had a credit card number stolen and used, or who has had an email account hacked, and you’ll almost certainly get a few hands raised. As we take more of our commerce and entertainment dollars online, it’s natural that criminals will follow, and they certainly are. Digital security is now everyone’s concern.
— Open Rights Group (@OpenRightsGroup) December 15, 2016
For an eye opening, practical exercise highlighting the importance of email password security, head over to the website haveibeenpwned.com and enter one or more of the email addresses you use. The website will query databases of the largest recent data hacks in recent years, and tell you if the password for the email account you enter was included in any of those breaches. Last week I checked my email addresses and was startled to learn my primary email account was compromised on two different websites in 2013 and 2016. If I had used the same password for either of those sites in other places, and/or not been using 2 factor authentication whenever possible, my digital identity could have been compromised.
— Wesley Fryer (@wfryer) December 13, 2016
There are a number of specific, practical things which you and members of your family can do right now, over the holiday break, to significantly improve the digital security routines you use to be online, active participants in twenty-first century society. Alex Hern’s (@alexhern) article for The Guardian, “Eight things you need to do right now to protect yourself online,” provides an excellent list to adopt as personal security “to-do’s.”
— Patrice Johnson (@pyjohnson1) December 18, 2016
Alex’s eight suggestions for digital security are:
- Use unique passwords for all your accounts
- Use a password manager
- Use random passwords
- Turn on two-step verification everywhere you can
- Update your software
- Put a six-digit PIN on your phone and set it to wipe if it’s guessed wrongly too many times
- Enable full-disk encryption
- Back-up to an external hard drive
The first and second suggestions on Alex’ list may be things you initially reject, because you think they will be too time consuming, too difficult, or unnecessary. Suggestion number two, “Use a password manager,” is the best tip for addressing these valid concerns. I agree with Alex that the two best options for password management today are either:
This weekend I announced to my wife and our three kids that over the upcoming Christmas holidays, I’m going hold a family workshop on digital security. Just as every family should have procedures for locking doors and keeping track of house keys, I think every household should take digital security equally seriously. This means requiring that family members take specific actions to secure ALL their digital credentials.
I’m going to put together a short Google Slide deck for this family workshop, and when I do I’ll add it here. Some of the specific things I’m going to require all of our family members to do and start doing (which will be included in the slides) are:
- Register / join our family password manager online account
- Change the password of their main email account if they haven’t changed it in the past year
- Setup (and save to the password manager) new secure, unique passwords for every different website they use.
- This will include each social media account: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
- By “secure” I mean a random password generated by the password manager website/app, which includes at least 20 characters
- Sign up for two factor authentication on every website which supports it. The website twofactorauth.org maintains an updated list.
- Insure their phone, laptop, and tablet computing devices are all updated to the latest stable software version, as well as all installed apps.
- Setup Google Cloud sync for local files saved on Apple laptops, following the steps I shared in the post, “Selectively Auto-Sync Local Files to Google Drive.” (excluding large screencast files by our resident teen YouTuber)
- Insure all iOS and Apple devices have “find my iPhone” enabled within our Family Sharing account
- Install and run “Lookout” on all iOS devices, and discuss the importance of periodically using it to check for malware apps
- Install and configure BitDefender software on all laptops running MacOS or Windows and tablets running Android. (not required for iOS or Chrome devices.)
- Discuss the importance of sharing boundaries and limits as they apply to social media, texting, corporate rewards programs, and other things (building on these ideas)
- Discuss The Tor Project and the importance of anonymity for potentially controversial Internet searches and web communications (also building on these ideas)
Consider giving the gift of digital security to your family this holiday season. It’s certainly possible to take security precautions too far and risk paranoia… but today I think the more common tendency is to take digital security TOO LIGHTLY and not recognize the clear and present danger which lax password security and other routines can pose to our lives and relationships. So: Be aware and reasonably prepare!
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