Security lesson for an Instagram star (and everyone else)

“Why would someone hack me, when there is nothing to gain from it?” Does that thought sound familiar? Now, picture this: You have become an Instagram star with thousands of followers and a degree of social capital, not to mention sponsors and advertisers bombarding you with direct messages. But old habits die hard, and your account security is still on the why-would-someone-hack-me level.

That’s where presenter, DJ, and influencer Ashley James found herself, and she admits that she has one password for all of her accounts. In a recent live broadcast, Ashley together with security guru David Jacoby of our GReAT team looked into ways of protecting one’s personal digital space. Luckily, it is not that hard!

How to make passwords

If you have one password for everything, you are easy prey. Just one leak from a service that you have a long-forgotten account with is all it takes for hackers to get the key they actually want: your blog, e-mail, or online wallet.

Passwords for the accounts you keep money in or otherwise treasure must be unique. Our Password Checker will help you make sure yours are both strong and not already compromised in a known password leak.

How do you remember many unique passwords? Here are a few life hacks:

  • Come up with a system for making passwords. The Jacoby method takes the first letters of the words from a favorite quote and append to that a punctuation mark and the first thing that comes to mind when you think of your account. For James, Instagram is a job, so her password could look something like ttmpomp!job (based on the quote “There’s too much pepper on my paprikash”). Oh, and do not use a password you have said on air (she won’t actually use this one).
  • Do not try to remember passwords for each and every one of your accounts. If you only log on to a certain service once every couple of years, it would be easier simply to reset the password every time. 
  • Use a password manager. Make sure to use a standalone application: Saving passwords in your browsers is not a good idea; many malicious programs are capable of stealing information from browser storage.

Smart devices and whether they really need to access the Internet

Smart speakers, smart TVs, video baby monitors, robot vacuums: The Internet of Things has long ceased to be an abstract concept, and many, if not all, are already using it. A smart device’s prime does not last long, though. Vendors typically stop pushing updates after a year or so, after which the smart thing becomes vulnerable.

Keep an eye on the manufacturing date as you choose these devices, the same way you choose perishables in a grocery store — unless you do not mind potentially hearing other people’s voices coming out of your baby monitor or having strangers watch a reality show streamed from your home security camera.

By the way, although it’s common to associate smart devices with the Internet of Things, not everything needs to be connected to the Internet. Before you connect a gadget to home Wi-Fi, pause to think whether it can do without the connection. For example, a robot vacuum cleaner is perfectly capable of zipping across your floors without being connected to the vendor’s servers.

One Wi-Fi network is good, but two are even better

If someone hacks into your home network, they will reach the devices connected to it, such as a computer and smartphone, smart speaker, and all the rest. Remember that your Wi-Fi network goes beyond the walls of your home. If outsiders can “see” it, then they can connect to it, especially if you are still using the easy-to-guess default password on your ISP-issue router.

So, you need to change every default password, including those for your Wi-Fi and router administration interface. Make your new passwords long and complex, so they are hard to crack. If you are not sure whether your password is complex enough, run it through our Password Checker.

A guest network is another handy option available in most modern routers. You can set up two networks with separate Internet access in your home at no extra charge. Devices connected to the main network will not communicate with those connected to the guest network. For example, you can connect all of your smart gadgets as guests, and they will not have access to the documents on your computer even if they get hacked. You can also use your guest network for its intended purpose of providing a connection to friends and other visitors.

Fear of spies

If you are afraid someone will spy on you through a camera or laptop microphone, you can cover both. You should not put duct tape over the camera lens; it may still capture blurred images during videoconferences. If you do not have a dedicated webcam cover, then a band-aid is a good option because its cotton pad both keeps the adhesive away from the camera lens and blocks the view from potential spies. If your phone cameras are what is making you nervous, just put your phone on the desk so one of the cameras sees the desk surface and the other shows only the ceiling.

Plugging your gadgets’ “ears” is not hard, either. Just get the cheapest pair of headphones available (or grab a broken pair if you already have one), cut off the jack, and plug it into the headphone socket. Now the device is picking up audio from a nonexistent mike.

If you have a newer iPhone or another fancy smartphone with no headphone jack, that’s no biggie. Use an adapter that lets you connect a headset to the charging port. With that plugged in, your smartphone will lose its ability to eavesdrop on you.

More digital comfort

Ashley James learned a lot from her conversation. Did you? We have lots of other useful life hacks that’ll help you make your digital life more secure and comfortable. For example, we can tell you how to make Wi-Fi work faster even in that last room down the hall, or what to do if you have been hacked. Click on the digital comfort zone tag for more exciting stuff.