Carey van Vlaaderen

The domino effect of a stolen password

The digital era we live in is a double-edged sword. While it offers convenience and accessibility, it also poses risks, especially when it comes to our personal data and online security. One critical aspect that is often underestimated is the power of using strong passwords. With Black Friday drawing near and online activity peaks, it’s a good time to think about how passwords are managed and why good password hygiene is essential to safe online shopping, says Carey van Vlaanderen, CEO of ESET South Africa.

The vulnerability of shared or recycled passwords

Having one password for multiple accounts is like placing all your eggs in one basket. If a hacker manages to crack that single code, a domino effect is set in motion, with potentially damaging results. “Imagine a scenario where your phone, which acts as a gateway to your digital life, falls into the wrong hands. This stolen password can open a Pandora’s box of issues, such as unauthorised purchases made by a hacker exploiting your saved payment details on your online shopping apps,” explains van Vlaanderen. This could also provide access to sensitive information, such as your personal data, purchase history, and shipping addresses, which become vulnerable to misuse. One stolen password can lead to an individual’s identity being compromised, as the same password can be used to log in to other accounts, allowing the hacker free rein to assume your identity and undermine your privacy.

Tips for effective password management

Stringent password hygiene is essential to avoid falling victim to password theft and identity compromise. Craft distinctive, robust passwords for each online account, combining letters, numbers, and special characters. Avoid password predictability by staying clear of easily guessable information, such as birthdays or names. “Consider using a reputable password manager to generate and securely store complex passwords. ESET Smart Security Premium, equipped with ‘ESET Password Manager,’ offers a robust tool that secures password management,” she says.

Use smart technology to maintain password integrity

At a personal level, implementing two-factor authentication on all accounts and devices adds a critical extra layer of security, ensuring that even if one password is compromised, unauthorised access remains challenging. “To guard against phishing attempts to steal passwords, it’s wise to use security tools with anti-phishing protection while exercising caution with unsolicited communications, verifying website authenticity before entering your credentials, and enabling email filters that block known phishing attempts,” notes van Vlaanderen.

Maintain password security through the lines of defence

Securing account recovery options is also a critical step in maintaining the safety of your online accounts. This means using strong, unique passwords for recovery email addresses (the account that password reset information is sent to in the case of a forgotten password), enabling 2FA for account recovery, and ensuring recovery information is kept up-to-date and secure. This account recovery email address is the last line of defence against password theft and is all too often overlooked until it’s too late.

What happens when a password is compromised?

Unauthorised access to accounts is unethical and illegal, carrying potential criminal charges and severe penalties. “However, this isn’t stopping criminals from attacking individuals and businesses in various ways. Regularly backing up data is crucial in case of a breach, as this offers a way to recover information. In the event of a password breach, it’s vital to take swift action to change the compromised password immediately, keep an eye on all accounts for unauthorised activity, and promptly notify the platform or service provider,” says van Vlaanderen.

Make better, safer e-commerce choices

Van Vlaanderen says vigilance and education are the best defence. “Stay informed about cybersecurity best practices, keep devices and software updated, and exercise caution when sharing personal information online. As Black Friday approaches, take the time to fortify digital boundaries to ensure a safer, more secure, and more enjoyable online experience.”

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