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5 Ways to Protect Your Online Information

February is Data Privacy Month

Students in computer lab

How to protect your online information. Data Privacy Month is Jan. 28 to Feb. 28. (file photo)

Hackers want your information, and they’re finding ever-more-diabolical ways to steal it. Luckily, USF’s Eunjin (EJ) Jung has made it her job to foil these online thieves. The assistant professor of computer science even has students build their own password-cracking software, so she can teach them how to defend against unwanted snooping.

Is any password safe?

They’re up against a formidable foe. Cybercriminals hack more than 1.5 million accounts worldwide every day and the number is rising. A clear sign of where hacking technology is headed was revealed with the recent release of new software called ocl-Hashcat-plus that can guess eight million passwords a second, and crack passwords as long as 55 characters—quite a leap from the previous capacity of 15. 

Jung, EunjunEunjin (EJ) Jung, assistant professor, computer science, is an expert in Internet security and privacy. She focuses on detecting malicious JavaScript, a popular attack device used by hackers. Her work is funded by the National Sciences Foundation. 

In the face of such powerful software, is any password safe? “In a word, ‘No,’” says Jung. “Any password can be hacked given enough time and resources.”

Don't make it easy for hackers

But all is not lost. Your best protection is still to create long passwords/passphrases, using random letters, numbers, and symbols. In fact, according to Jung, you can reduce your chances of becoming a victim of fraud, identity theft, or worse in minutes by following a few simple steps: 

  1. Avoid common (and easy to crack) passwords such as “password,” or “123456.” Don’t use names, addresses, birth dates, or other personal information, which can be found in your email archive and on social media sites.
  2. Avoid passages from books, even books in languages other than English. They are easily searched by password-cracking software.
  3. Use unique passwords for each website you log into. This will limit the damage if one of your accounts is compromised.
  4. Consider using password management tools like KeePass and LastPass, which can generate random passwords for each of your sites and store them in an encrypted database.
  5. But what’s the most secure option? Jung recommends multifactor authentication, a security measure that involves a knowledge component (a password or PIN), a possession component (an ATM card or mobile phone), and, in some instances, a biological component (fingerprint or retina scan). 

The bottom line? The more layers of security you have, the better, Jung says.

by Ed Carpenter | Office of Communications and Marketing »email usfnews@usfca.edu | Twitter @usfcanews