By now, most of us are aware of data breaches and hacking, but the vulnerabilities in today’s password protection systems continue to be top concerns for organizations and individuals combined. Technology experts are of the opinion that everything we considered true regarding password practices must be re-examined given recent headways in technology. Organizations need to be more alert while individuals need to be additionally mindful of their online behavior.
Credential hacking is the foremost tool used by hackers to illegally gain access to user data. Passwords, email addresses, and login IDs are continuously for sale on the dark web, as cybercriminals have knowingly gained access to systems by means of phishing techniques and database hacking and sell these credentials by the millions.
When hackers are aware of organizations or individuals making use of the same password on various sites, they obtain access to a host of usernames and passwords and use these credentials on authorized sites to steal money and data. For the longest time now, technology experts have been of the opinion that passwords containing mixed case letters, non-alphanumeric symbols, at least eight characters and numbers were strong. However, with the emergence of advanced hardware and software, even the most robust passwords can now be cracked.
For example, a computer running virtualization software with advanced graphics processing has been known to crack eight-character passwords in a matter of hours. Because of the restrictions of learning multiple unique 24 character password chains and complicated credentials, most people tend to reuse passwords that put their identities at risk. Even if a cybercriminal has gained access to an unobtrusive account such as a loyalty program card, the credentials are likely to have been used elsewhere such as for financial transactions. With the password, the hacker virtually holds the key to most of the sites used by the users for his online transactions.
Let’s look at how passwords are critical for your online security:
- While some security vendors may claim that passwords are passé, it turns out that there is no better alternative to passwords yet. Hence, until a universal solution becomes available, passwords will continue to be a crucial, determining factor for data protection. Passwords, however, can be made more secure by using additional authentication methods at login time.
- Unfortunately, most people continue to employ weak passwords and often reuse them thus placing them at risk of data theft. Many users continue to use the default passwords they are provided with.
- Towards the end of 2016, default passwords or weak passwords enabled botnet malware to infect thousands of Internet of things (IoT) devices, such as security cameras, digital printers, media recorders, and routers. This particular botnet attack known as Mirai was particularly infamous as it drew power from the endangered IOT gadgets to incite massive attacks against websites such as Twitter, Reddit, Netflix, Airbnb, eBay and DNS providers to render them ‘out of reach’ or initiate connectivity issues. This very same botnet was then employed by hackers to take down the entire Internet network of Liberia in an unprecedented historic attack. Additionally, they used it once again to attack over 900,000 telecom routers in Germany. All this began when hackers took advantage of default and flimsy passwords on IoT devices.
- Weak passwords can easily be cracked by cybercriminals with the help of automated tools. By hacking into an email account, it can be used to reset passwords to other accounts as well. One password employed for multiple accounts makes things very easy for cybercriminals.
Even if individuals move on to longer passwords or assign random passwords to different websites, it is unlikely to work as they may not use them in the long run. Since it is difficult to remember passwords and good passwords are hard to keep track of, using a password manager can help in getting a unique random password for each site. This ensures that if the information is leaked from a particular site, it can have no effect on the rest of the other sites visited by the same individual.
In addition, multifactor authentication or two-factor authentication protection solutions, where available, can work as effective solutions to data protection. This could mean that even if a cybercriminal gains access to your password, it can become hard to break into a site with the help of additional authentication solutions.
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At the end of the day, the fact remains that protecting devices from being hacked is the primary step towards preventing data breaches. The dangers of malware and malicious code running on a user’s device cannot be emphasized enough. A few simple steps can help in reducing the risk of hackers running their code on your computer and prevent it from being infected.