Our data at risk

Computer usage has become so ubiquitous that it is impossible for many of us to imagine a modern world without these handy tools.

They sit on our desktops and power our televisions. They are available as tablets, telephones, wristwatches and even glasses. They are ever evolving, yet their presence constitutes a huge threat to our financial well-being, privacy and even national security.

There is data, data everywhere and a lot of power and money to be had by getting one’s hands on it. And, apparently, it is not hard to do if one is savvy enough about the technology.

According to stories last week in The Wall Street Journal, many of the celebrated breeches in computer security can be traced to one simple problem – the main guard at the door to most data is 50-year-old technology known as the password. If a hacker can learn a password, he can steal the data it is designed to protect.

There have been a few attempts in recent years to replace the password with devices that can read the iris or the fingerprint of a user. But, by and large, passwords are still prevalent and hackers have developed sophisticated algorithms to crack them.

So, when hackers steal information from eBay (this week’s victim), Target (last year’s victim), or the U.S. government (apparently China’s victim for several years), solving the password riddle was the key to gaining access to volumes of data.

EBay urged 140 million users to change their passwords this week because of a hacker’s success. The Journal says Target’s woes began when computer thieves stole the password of a refrigeration contractor.

But until the technology sector comes up with a universally accepted – and easy to use – replacement, we are stuck with passwords. The best advice is to make your passwords as complicated as possible – no kids’ names, don’t use “password” – and change them often.

It’s too bad there are bad guys lurking out there in cyberspace. But they are there. Your best protection is to stay alert, report immediately any suspected breeches – and choose passwords that would stump Einstein.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.