The Most Hated Man on the Internet, a 2022 Netflix docuseries, is currently gripping audiences in South Africa. But the story of Hunter Moore and his hacking accomplice, Charlie Evans – who uploaded stolen and hacked photographs onto pornographic site IsAnyoneUp.com – should do more than send chills up spines. It should remind everyone of the importance of having strong and secure passwords in place for all online accounts, to protect their personal data.
In 2022, the importance of having a strong password cannot be overstated, with the number of apps and services growing by the day. Cybercriminals are attempting to obtain passwords and all associated login credentials for user accounts through both widespread and targeted attacks. On the darknet, there is a very active trade in this data, with various hacker groups (made up of thousands of members) trading passwords.
In the case of Is Anyone Up, an FBI investigation found that Moore was paying cybercriminal Evans $200 a week to hack into email addresses and acquire intimate photographs. One of the victims was the unsuspecting Charlotte Laws, who had her private photographs stolen and uploaded, together with her name and social media profiles.
As the first line of defense against cybercriminals, it is important to use strong passwords to help prevent unauthorised access to your accounts. At the same time, it’s equally as important to work securely with passwords. This means staying informed and protecting yourself against phishing scams, social engineering, and types of malware, including:
- Infostealers: Infostealers, such as FormBook, are a big problem, as they are among the most widespread malware and can spy on users, track keystrokes, take screenshots and gather other valuable information for hackers. Check Point Software’s 2022 Mid-Year Report on cyber attack trends found that, in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, Formbook is the second most prevalent form of malware. In addition, FormBook can be easily, and cheaply, purchased on hacker forums as a service. This means anyone can be a threat to your passwords, even if they don’t have the technical knowledge.
- Mobile malware: Mobile malware has been a growing threat for years. Mobile devices are the primary means by which many people access the internet, and the ‘always on’ mobile culture tends to lower barriers to exploitation by increasing the probability that a malicious link will be clicked, or a suspicious app downloaded.
- Banking trojans: Often delivered via unintentional downloads or compromised websites, this malware is designed to steal the login credentials of your online bank accounts. With this information, an attacker can steal money from your accounts or use your information for identity theft.
Every single day, cybercriminals try to steal the passwords of hundreds of users – be it passwords for email accounts, bank accounts, or streaming services. While the hacking techniques continue to change, and the threats continue to evolve, there are still simple ways we can keep our data protected. We should start by reevaluating the strength of our passwords and bolstering up our own cybersecurity efforts, staying aware of the many different ways cybercriminals can steal passwords, from phishing emails to malware.
Top five tips for strengthening password security
- Use a combination of characters: Having a password that is made up of simple phrases or of dates significant to the user’s personal life is a very common practice. However, this habit seriously weakens a password as information such as birthdays can be easily found by cyber criminals. To avoid this, always use a random sequence made up of a combination of different numbers, letters, and symbols for each platform.
- Use a different password for everything: With so many apps and services now requiring login details, it’s tempting to repeat the same single password for all of them, but this is a bad idea. Just as we do not have the same key to open our home, office, or car, we shouldn’t use the same password. This only makes it easier for hackers to ‘open’ our entire digital life. If you find that it is difficult to remember them all, you can always employ the help of an online password manager to help manage and generate different, robust access codes.
- The longer, the stronger: It’s true that the longer a password combination is, the harder it is to remember. But it is one of the best ways to keep information safe so make sure to use at least eight digits to tighten up security levels.
- Make regular changes: Changing your password regularly may seem like an almost impossible challenge. However, this can be made easier by using the same basic pattern and adding different combinations from there. This way, it will be easier to remember and easier to change regularly.
- Two-factor authentication is your best friend: While taking all the above measures will certainly improve the effectiveness of a password, it is also essential to implement two-factor authentication. New threats are constantly surfacing, so to ensure you’re completely protected, being made aware every time an attacker or unauthorised person wants to access your account will only improve your security.
This article was written by Pankaj Bhula, Regional Director for Africa at Check Point Software.