By now you've heard the news: More than two million passwords for accounts at Gmail, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn sites have been compromised, according to a report from the security firm Trustwave.
The culprit? Malware called "Pony" that captured the passwords stored on individuals' infected computers. But users also must accept some responsibility. Some of the most common passwords in the set reportedly were "123456" and "password" and "admin".
We know how hard it is to balance convenience with security. So here are five easy tips to secure accounts now:
Tip 1: Diversify your passwords. To reduce risk, use a different password for each of your accounts. Otherwise you'll make it too easy for hackers to gain access to social media, financial and other accounts. (See tip 5 for how to keep track of all your new passwords.)
Tip 2: Strive for unpredictability. Instead of relying on your kids' and pets' names or anniversary dates, shake things up a bit. Use a healthy mix of letters (uppercase and lowercase), numbers and symbols. So "happy777" would read as "H@pea!931".
Tip 3: Say it with song. Or try a poem or saying. Turn "Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house" into "TtnbCaatth!".
Tip 4: Change your passwords regularly. Try to update your passwords on a quarterly basis, if not more frequently.
Tip 5: Store passwords in a secure place. Now that you're getting savvy about passwords, you'll need a way to remember them. Try password managers such as PasswordBox, LastPass and RoboForm that help you store and manage passwords and PINs.
If you suspect your accounts—and identity—have been compromised, check with your providers to see if you receive identity management services. Many Insurers, banks, credit unions and membership organizations often provide the benefit to customers.
Eduard Goodman is chief privacy officer at IDentity Theft 911.
Image courtesy of AHMAD FAIZAL YAHYA / Shutterstock.com