Take a moment to think about your life online. Your photos and music. Your calendars. Your bills and bank accounts. Contact information for your friends, family and colleagues. So much of our day-to-day life is now tethered to the web. So what would you do if it all came unraveled?
In less than an hour that's exactly what happened to tech journalist Mat Honan, a Senior Writer for Wired whose story prompted both Apple and Amazon to make changes to their password retrieval procedures. If a tech vet like Honan could fall victim to the social "hacktivism" of an anonymous 19-year-old, what does it mean for the rest of us?
Fortunately, there are some practical lessons to be learned from this security snafu. Here are a few ways to safeguard your digital existence and still enjoy the convenience—and security—that cloud services offer.
Two-step authentication is a security feature option implemented by Google last year, which requires—as its name suggests—two steps to access your account:
The two-factor approach helps provide an added layer of security in case your password is guessed, stolen or obtained over an insecure network. Once you've set it up and entered your username and password, you will be prompted to enter a verification code. This verification code will be sent via voicemail or text message to the number that you've provided. You can even add two backup verification options in case your phone is lost or stolen.
Keeping track of multiple passwords can be a pain. Even with unique passwords, many of us still choose usernames with identical prefixes (first name, last initial, etc.) or have our accounts daisy-chained together, giving anyone with access to one account the keys to unlock more of our personal information.
There are a few steps involved here, but the basic lesson? Diversify.
It may seem a little labor intensive now, but just think of how many headaches it will save should one of your personal accounts become compromised.
The most devastating part of Mat Honan's hacking wasn't the eight years of email correspondence he lost, or the reputation-damaging tweets sent in his name. All of his music was still accessible through a cloud-based service, and even his finances were unscathed. But the data on his laptop—including irreplaceable photos of his daughter's first hours and months—was remotely wiped, and potentially gone forever.
The lesson here may be the most obvious, but also the one easiest to overlook: back up your data. Back up locally. Back up on the cloud. Double back up your backup. Be vigilant, relentless, and redundant.
Whether you use a service to automatically back up your most important files, or you set a schedule to do manual upkeep, make secure copies and keep them in more than one place, so come fire, flood or ferocious hacker, you'll still have the stuff you care about.
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