By their very nature, social networking sites like Google, Twitter, Facebook and MySpace are gold mines for cyber criminals looking to steal your identity or hijack your account. All four sites have recently revamped or released new privacy settings, largely in response to outcries from a critical public and skeptical media.
And, just in time for Halloween, Facebook unveiled a Houdini-ish new privacy feature, offering users a “one-time,” disposable password for use on public computers or to double-check the security of your account.
The disappearing trick is just a good reminder as any of the importance of using safe, secure passwords for all your online accounts. So take a moment this month to review your passwords and follow these 7 top tips to stay protected:
1)Â Be Creative: Create a password with a mixture of numbers, symbols and mixed-case letters. Skip keyboard patterns like “qwerty” or sequential patters like “abcd1234″ and go for the combo – it gives you more options and makes it that much harder for anyone to crack.
2) Make it Long: Your password should be at least eight characters long, but the longer the better.
3) Use Non-Identifiable Information: Forget that combination of your first pet’s name and the first street you lived on. Never use information that people may find out about you, i.e. your maiden name, your employer or even the name of your uncle twice-removed.
4) Go Foreign: “Parlez-vous franÃ§ais?” When it comes to your password, you should. Try using foreign words that aren’t in the English dictionary. And, better yet, combine those words with mixed-case letters, numbers and punctuation marks for extra security.
5) Stay Mum: It seems every site these days requires a password so you may be tempted to write them all down or send yourself an email to keep them straight. If you have to have a written record, keep it stored in a secure place with a non-identifying label. The same goes for your computer, create a unique name for the file where your passwords are saved. Also, never reveal your passwords to friends or even family members.
6) Skip the Save: Most social networking sites offer users the chance to save their username and password for easy login, skip it. Instead, take the extra time to reenter your password manually each time you log on, it’ll save you headaches and a lot more time down the road.
7) Create a Query Quandary: Most sites also ask users to choose a question to verify their identify if they forget their password. Make sure you select or create a question with an answer only you would know, not something a hacker could easily find on your Facebook wall or Twitter profile. To be even more secure, throw a number or punctuation mark within your answer, i.e. Chic!ago, to make it that much harder to identify.