The best gift you can get yourself this year

You want to “treat yourself” this year, like characters Donna and Tom in the popular show Parks and Rec?

Then treat yourself to this — what some cybersecurity experts say is the best gift you can get — if you don’t already have one.

A password manager.

It can make you safer, happier and free from one of the biggest burdens of the digital world — remembering all of your passwords.

Watch here:

How Do They Work?

Password managers store all of your passwords so you don’t have to remember them.

You just need one long, unique password for your password manager — like a master key — so you can get in.

You download the manager onto your phone and computer so you can get to your passwords anywhere, any time.

How important is it? I asked a local cybersecurity expert about the best tool for security basics.

“Password manager. Password manager. Password manager,” he answered.

Why You Need to Use One

Right now, you’re probably using the same password more than once. You can’t remember them all and it hurts your brain.

But when you re-use them, you make it easy for cyber crooks to get into your accounts, raid for passwords and money, and sell them on the dark web. You may have no idea it’s happening.

Why so easy? Because data breaches.

With every data breach — and there are new ones every week — attackers get a trove of passwords to use as they wish. They’ll use automation to try out those passwords on millions of other accounts, from bank to email to work accounts and shopping.

If you reused that leaked password on any other account, it’s no longer yours. You may have a secret, malicious co-owner.

 

Top 5 most used passwords in 2020, according to NordPass. Image: NordPass

What We’re Doing Wrong

A recent survey by security company Proofpoint shows:

—16% of people surveyed use the same one or two passwords for every account. 

—29% use between 5 and 10 different passwords. 

Other people may use different passwords for every account but make them so easy that crooks can easily guess them, once again using automation to run through the thousands of commonly used passwords.

If you use easy passwords or reuse passwords, you’re giving everything away.

Only 23% of people are using secure password managers, according to a 2020 report by FICO, even though it’s one of the top ways to protect yourself online.

Why?

Some people don’t feel the need until they’re hacked.

A 2019 study from Carnegie Mellon University explored why people don’t use password managers.

Some people interviewed said they are suspicious of the technology, they don’t think their accounts are valuable, or they’ve had some hiccups using similar tech. They cite lack of motivation, time and need as factors. They prefer to juggle passwords, struggle to remember them, and reset their passwords often rather than take the time to change their strategies.

Others feel the motivation after they’re victimized.

“All of my information was just taken. It was awful, so I’m having to get a new debit card for everything, having to get new credit cards,” said a woman in the study who had been reusing passwords. “That’s when I realized that I needed to reevaluate.”

“I was like, ‘Something needs to change, and it has to change on my end,’” she told researchers.

 

Most used passwords for 2020, numbers 6 to 10. Image: NordPass

Can They be Hacked?

Yes, password managers can get hacked. But cybersecurity experts say it’s not common — and you’re much more likely to get hacked without one.

Refusing a manager and re-using passwords instead? It’s kind of like saying you won’t lock your front door because people can hack through deadbolts, even though a deadbolt keeps your door significantly more secure and less appealing for robbers.

Just make sure your main password is long and strong — and easy for you to type and remember.

What Now?

Now, you pick out a password manager for yourself.

You can get a free password manager, or one that costs money.

Cybersecurity experts recommend you do research by going to well-known sites that review password managers, like PCMag, Tom’s Guide and The New York Times’ Wire Cutter.

These sites review technology like password managers every year. They may disagree on top managers or they may come up with the same answer. Read their reviews and see which one — free or paid — would work best for you.

Don’t worry if you don’t understand all of the tech terms in the reviews. You can still get an idea of which managers work well and which don’t.

Don’t just do an Internet search and type in “best password managers.” Crooks will post fake reviews and manipulate search results to get their versions at the top.

 

Most used passwords for 2020, numbers 11 to 15. Image: NordPass

How Do You Use It?

One you download the manager, enter in your current accounts and passwords.

As you create new accounts online, you enter those into the manager as well.

Now you can come up with those long, unique and secure passwords with as many crazy characters as you like — without having to commit them to memory. Or you can use a random password generator, if you prefer.

If you’re intimidated by technology, it may take a while to get used to it. You may be tempted to give up and go back to re-using passwords.

Don’t do it. With a little fortitude, you can change your life for good.

Other Options

Some people write down their passwords in a note on their computers or phones. Unfortunately, experts say attackers can use automation to search for documents that contain what appear to be passwords.

Also, your browser may ask you if you want to save a password for the site you are visiting.

It’s tempting to say yes. But experts say it’s not hard to hack passwords saved in browsers. And browser security, they say, is not as good as most password manager security.

They recommend that you do not agree to having your browser save your passwords or your credit card numbers when asked.

An Even Better Gift

I’m a believer now. I put off getting a password manager as long as I could. It seemed complicated.

But once I made myself do it, I realized it was far easier than trying to keep track of the hundreds of passwords for every new account you have to open online. It’s not a perfect solution for everyone, but it’s most likely better than the non-password manager thing you’re doing now.

An even better gift: learning how to use a password manager — and showing your friend or relative how to use it, too.

Spread the love — and online safety — this holiday season.

 

Main image: Gift box by keyboard. Image: 123ducu/iStock



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