A couple of weeks ago I logged into my Gmail and saw a warning that my account had been access by someone in Serbia. I quickly changed my password and looked at my usage files and saw that yes my account had been access for a while from someone in Serbia. I didnâ€™t look like they sent any email but I have been finding a lot of email in my spam lately and people have been asking me about email and I hadnâ€™t gotten it. It was getting frustrating but I use Gmail so I would just blame SaskTel, Shaw or their own business email.
I donâ€™t keep a lot of confidential emails in my account. Wendy has access to it so and I have a pretty mundane life. I do keep a tight track of my personal ID numbers and none of that is kept in my account but I never ever thought that could save me. It looks like it did.
I contacted Google and thought about contacting the RCMP but at that time I wasnâ€™t even sure at that time what had been done.
Google got back to me and outside of my spam folder being wrecked, a lot of emails had been trashed which were recoverable. It wasnâ€™t that bad. What was bad was my password. I was one of the first wave of Gmail users and switched right away. I entered in a password and never changed it. Over time what was a strong password had become a weak password and I paid the price.
Since that day my password has become a letter/number combo which is case sensitive. There is no way to connected it to anything I have written or done. Itâ€™s a strong password. I have also enacted Googleâ€™s double verification for my email which means that when I log in to a strange computer, it sends a code to my cell phone which I have to enter. Annoying but way more secure.
I am not alone in this, James Fallowâ€™s wife went through a much worse experience than I did. Here is what Fallows learned and I ignored.
But there is a middle ground, of passwords strong enough to create problems for hackers and still simple enough to be manageable. There are more details on our site, but strategies include:
â€¢ Choose a long, familiar-to-you sequence of ordinary words, with spaces between them as in an ordinary sentence, which more and more sites now allow. â€œLake Winnebago is deep and chilly,â€ for instance. Or â€œmy favorite packer is not brett favre.â€ You could remember a phrase like that, but a hackerâ€™s computer, which couldnâ€™t tell spaces from characters, would see only one forbiddingly long password sequence.
â€¢ Choose a shorter sequence of words that are not â€œrealâ€ English words. I once lived in a Ghanaian village called Assin Fosu. I can remember its name easily, but it would be hard to guess. Even harder if I added numbers or characters.
â€¢ Choose a truly obscure, gibberish passwordâ€”â€œV*!amYEg5M5!3Râ€ is one I generated just now with the LastPass system, and youâ€™re welcome to itâ€”and then find a way to store it. Having it written down in your wallet is one, though the paper itâ€™s on shouldnâ€™t say â€œPasswordsâ€ at the top. The approach I prefer, and use for some passwords, is to entrust them to online managers like LastPass or RoboForm. Even if their corporate sites were hacked, that wouldnâ€™t reveal all your passwords, since the programs work by storing part of the encoding information in the cloud and part on your own machine.
At a minimum, any step up from â€œpassword,â€ â€œ123456,â€ or your own birthday is worthwhile.
Finally, use different passwords. Not hundreds of different ones, for the hundreds of different places that require logins of some kind. The guide should be: any site that matters needs its own passwordâ€”one you donâ€™t currently use for any other site, and that you have never used anywhere else.
â€œUsing an important password anywhere else is just like mailing your house key to anyone who might be making a delivery,â€ Michael Jones of Google said. â€œIf you use your password in two places, it is not a valid password.â€
I asked my experts how many passwords they personally used. The highest I heard was â€œabout a dozen.â€ The lowest was four, and the norm was five or six. They all stressed that they managed their passwords and sites in different categories. In my own case, there are five sites whose security really matters to me: my main eâ€‘mail account, two credit-card sites, a banking account, and an investment firm. Each has its own, good password, never used anywhere else. Next are the sites Iâ€™d just as soon not have compromised: airline-mileage accounts, Amazon and Barnes & Noble, various message boards and memberships. I have two or three semi-strong passwords I use among all of them. If you hacked one of them you might hack the others, but I donâ€™t really care. Then there is everything else, the thicket of annoying little logins we all deal with. I have one or two passwords for them too. By making it easy to deal with unimportant accounts, I can concentrate on protecting the ones that matter.
I wish I had taken his advice. What a mess and I got off lucky.