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Get password smart!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the changes that we’ve experienced over the last decade or so.

We now bank, shop and communicate online. We access many services simply by logging in to an online account or social media platform. We also share some of our most important information online — about ourselves, our family, and our finances.  As a result, cyber attacks are becoming more and more prevalent.

At CERT NZ, every day I hear about people who are dealing with the serious and life-changing impacts of their online accounts being attacked. This happens in a number of ways; from attackers emailing malware (harmful software that infects computers) to unauthorised access of online accounts.

The methods of attack are increasingly clever but protecting against them can be simple. I say simple because attackers can gain access through a simple flaw like a weak password. Many attacks are due to people using weak passwords that are easy for attackers to guess or find, or using the same password across accounts.

The impacts of these cyber attacks can be significant. Here are some examples of what attackers can do if they get hold of your password:

  • They can gain access to your bank accounts and help themselves to your savings
  • They can sign into your email account and reset passwords on your other accounts. They could also send fake invoices or computer viruses to people in your contact list
  • They can access your social media account, pretend to be you and request money from your friends and family. For example, to pay for a bogus health situation.

These examples are scary and thinking about how to beef up your security can feel pretty overwhelming—but it’s really not that hard. The single best way to protect yourself, your family, your friends, and your finances is to get password smart.

How to be password smart:

Make it difficult for people to find or guess your password by creating strong passwords — and use different passwords for each online account.

If there is one thing you can do today, please look at one of your accounts and make a simple change: create a new password that is strong and unique to that account. Here’s how:

  • Long passwords are strong passwords.

Use four or more words to make up your passwords. Not only will this be easier to remember, it’s as strong as a password that uses a mix of numbers, letters, and symbols. Use a sentence or fun phrase that is unique to you, for example, popcornwithbutterisbest

  • Use unique passwords for each of your online accounts.

This means that if an attacker gets hold of one of your passwords, they won’t get access to all of your accounts. Start creating new passwords for your most important accounts first — like your email, banking and social media accounts.

  • Store your passwords somewhere safe.

We all struggle to remember multiple passwords. It’s OK to write them down—just make sure you keep them somewhere safe, separate from your computer and mobile phone. Using a password manager is another option because you only need to remember one password for all your online accounts.

Protect yourself, your family and your finances—get password smart.
For more information, visit
www.cert.govt.nz/password-smart

CERT NZ is here to improve cyber security in New Zealand. CERT NZ works alongside other government agencies and organisations — both locally and internationally — to help New Zealand better understand and stay resilient to cyber security threats.

Article by Rob Pope, Director at CERT NZ

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