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An illustration of a computer screen with the password field.
An illustration of a computer screen with the password field.
An illustration of a computer screen with the password field.

Published July 23, 2019.

Five ways to protect against cybertheft.

No offense, but criminals do not care that "Uluvcats." The endgame for thieves working to crack your online passwords is to steal your money.

They’re great at it! Last year the FBI received more than 1.5 million complaints of cybercrimes: theft, fraud, and exploitation responsible for $2.7 billion.

"Not everyone is a bad actor, but we have to be more careful," says Heather Stratford, CEO of Stronger, a cybersecurity company in Spokane. Stratford offers five ways to make criminals' jobs harder.

1. Make longer passwords, and many of them.

Like most security experts, Stratford advocates for long passwords. A 15-character password will take much longer to crack than an eight-character code, no matter the complexity.

Create a different password for each account, Stratford advises, so one leaked password can’t be used to access your other accounts. Use a password-manager app or website to keep track.

2. Beware the phishers.

Phishing emails and texts pressure recipients into providing account numbers, passwords, or other information useful for theft. The messages often convey a sense of urgency.

"Try to wait a second, just one second, before you click on something," Stratford says. Ask yourself: Do you know the sender? Were you expecting the message? Is this an appropriate way for a business to reach you? Is there a legitimate reason you’d need to respond quickly? If no, no, no, or no, then don’t take the bait.

“Most people have no idea their computer's been compromised,” Stratford says.

3. Watch your actual stuff.

Stratford recalls a plane trip in which a seatmate asked her to keep an eye on her open, unlocked laptop while the seatmate used the lavatory. Stratford kept her eye on it – and noticed the woman worked for a large company whose information Stratford could have easily accessed.

Don't let your phone or laptop out of your sight in places where strangers can use them, especially not without password protection. Someone can snatch your device — or access it to steal data ― without you knowing the difference. “It can happen in 60 seconds,” Stratford says.

4. Turn on multifactor authentication.

Yes, it’s annoying to have to provide both a password and another piece of identifying information – such as a code texted to your phone – each time you log in to an account. And, yes, it’s necessary to enable multifactor authentication, which requires you to provide at least two pieces of evidence that you’re really you, Stratford says.

"We can’t have just one 'key' anymore," Stratford says.

5. Don’t use public chargers and Wi-Fi.

Have you ever borrowed a phone charger in a Lyft? Or logged on to a free, unsecured Wi-Fi at the hair salon? Careful, Stratford says: "Free is not free."

Thieves using unsecure wireless networks can steal your information — or they can use chargers to hijack your device, harnessing its processing power to manage cryptocurrency or other schemes. "Most people have no idea their computer's been compromised," Stratford says. "They do notice it’s sluggish, but they have no idea somebody else is using it in the background."

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