Here's the Scoop: July 27, 2011

What’s that password?
I heard an interesting piece on the radio this week. It seems that I am not alone in struggling to remember passwords for various accounts on the Internet.

Apparently, failure to remember one’s passwords is pretty much an epidemic. As an antidote for this plague, many of us choose to “simplify” our passwords to make it easier to gain access to online accounts, etc.

The bad news is that this easy-to-remember passwords are good for bad guys. And bad girls. The kind of people who want to gain entry to these accounts and remove our hard-earned money before we have a chance to spend it all on there’s-no-good-reason-for-prices-to-be-this-high gasoline.
Even though these bad “stealers” are up to no good, using proper precautions can often thwart their efforts. For instance, the news item I heard strongly discouraged using passwords such as: “I Love My Cat” and “12345” to protect one’s precious information. No mention of “I Love My Dog,” so many of you are probably safe. I know I am. We don’t have a dog.

The whole password thing, of course, is a relatively new phenomenon. It wasn’t long ago that passwords were pretty much used for entry into secret clubs and other private places. Now, since most of us have access to highly confidential information such as bank accounts and credit cards online, passwords have taken on much more significance.

Use your imagination
I have also read a number of articles on precautions that the public should take to utilize very strong passwords to help thwart thieves. It’s a really good idea, it seems, to make up tough passwords, write them down and then hide them in a secure spot. Assuming you can remember where you put them, naturally.

Human nature often wins out, though. We get lazy. We often use the same password for multiple accounts. To counter this, I have started utilizing utterly random combinations of letters and numerals to protect my accounts. Despite these fine efforts, my bank account always remains perilously close to zero. On the bright side, I have found that consistently low bank balances are a great deterrent to computer hackers!

Still, I have had plenty of fun with passwords such as: Buzzoffhairballs7.”

These “cyber-bandits,” as they are often known, use some very sophisticated systems to hack into people’s accounts. I’ve heard about one scam that involves tiny transactions of, say, $1.16, that hackers remove from people’s bank accounts. Many folks apparently ignore these little withdrawals on their statements, figuring they are yet more bank fees. While it doesn’t seem worth the effort, multiply these withdrawals by a few million and you’ve got some rich thieves.

I am offering police officials a tip for catching these computer hackers: go to nice marinas and look for any yachts named: “I Love Your Cat.” Meow.
— Brian Sweeney