Help From a Hacker: Things you must do to protect yourself from the bad guys [Part II]

My recent post, “A Hacker’s Story: Let me tell you just how easily I can steal your personal data,” is pretty popular. It really showed people how easy it is for even a young journalist with almost no hacking experience to get their personal data. Now that people are aware of this, what can you do? Is there a way to stop this kind of thing?

Yes—but it’s not easy.

I’ve compiled a list of tips, software and hacks that will help you keep your private data to yourself while browsing the web. You don’t have to use all of these, but just remember, the more you use, the safer your data is.

Use strong passwords.

Most of the time when you get “hacked,” you think that it was some super computer genius that figured out a way around your ‘secure’ password. When in reality, it was usually a simple program that did a “dictionary” attack. This kind of attack simply tries a million passwords in a very short period of time until it gets it right. The simpler your password, the sooner it gets through.

If your password (for Facebook, your email, etc.) is an English word, it can be “hacked” in a matter of seconds with a powerful enough machine.

The only way to protect yourself from this form of attack is simple: use a strong password. A strong passwords consists of a string of random letters, numbers and special characters. The longer and more random it is, the better. For example, the length of time it takes to break the word “privacy” versus the word “pr1vac^” is massive.

The best kind of password looks like this: An&!923dsml;n#@#(^kja).  Remember the golden rule: the longer the better.

Don’t use the same username and password for multiple accounts.

One of the scariest things I see my family doing on a regular basis is using the same username and password for multiple accounts. The password they use for Facebook is the same they use for online banking.

This makes memorizing easier, but it also means if someone gets access to your Facebook account they can easily get access to your bank account.

And yes, people DO test passwords on other sites. If a password works on one, they’ll try it on a bunch of others.

While Facebook and your bank may be pretty secure, that cat forum you like to post on probably isn’t. If you do this, please go to as many sites as possible and change the password. If you have trouble memorizing so many usernames and passwords you can use an add-on such as LastPass so you only need to memorize one and it automatically fills in the rest for you.

Don’t enter contests.

We all know the “Win a FREE iPod” ads you see scattered around the web are scams, but for some reason, once we get out into the real world, we don’t have our defenses up.

I live in downtown Toronto and there are always tents set up by various companies that offer prizes or free stuff. Once you get there you have to fill out a “short survey” before you get anything. A lot of people don’t seem to realize that the information gathered during the survey is used for advertising. Meaning if you put your phone number down you’ll start getting phone calls. And the small text in the survey lets them sell your information to anyone.

You simply have to stop entering these contests. The chances of you winning are minimal and the information you give out is very valuable.

Check Facebook privacy settings.


The best thing you can do is quit Facebook, but if you absolutely need to stay on the service, you really should check out the privacy settings. If you haven’t changed them in any way a lot of your information is being broadcasted out to the world, making it easy for anyone to learn everything they need to know about you.

Simply go through the settings and decide what you want the world to see, what you want only friends to see and what you want no one to see. Make sure to do this every couple of months as Facebook likes to change the settings on a regular basis.