NORMAN — How can normal computer users protect themselves against Internet criminals who use online messaging systems such as email? Is such a goal even attainable?
Yes, with some effort and a little learning, online messaging security is possible. Perfect security and super easy, “no thinking involved” security do not exist, but pretty darned good security can be achieved by anyone willing to try.
Keep in mind when reading my recommendations that I do not make the rules for Internet safety and security; I just tell you what they are, so don’t get mad at me if what I say challenges the way you do things.
No, Mrs. Jones, you cannot use “Princess” as your password. Don’t shoot the messenger. For those who prefer no-frills, “just the facts, please” explanations, I submit the following, which applies to all online messaging systems like email, Facebook, instant messaging, etc.
1) You must use strong passwords for your online accounts, unless, of course, you actually want your email account to be hacked. Most hacked email accounts got that way because of one thing: their owners used crummy passwords. Visit my website and read my 6-24-12 column titled “Crummy passwords = hacked email accounts” for a more thorough explanation, and you’ll learn why “everyBasketball7should$” is a very strong password.
2) Most online accounts require that you know the answers to pre-determined “security questions.” It is recommended that you do not give truthful answers to those questions or give answers that anyone else in the world could possibly know; in other words, give fake answers. Read my 2-26-12 column titled “Give fake answers to security questions” to learn why.
3) Don’t give your email address out to people who don’t really need it. Some folks seem to think they are required to do everything that is asked of them, but honestly, does the local grocery store really need your email address so you can get a super-duper saver card? I say no, they do not need it, and if they insist on having an email address associated with your name, I have no qualms whatsoever in giving them a fake email address. You can even establish a separate “give-away” email address for free at Yahoo or Gmail and give that address to intrusive types who insist on grabbing every personal detail of your life.