How to protect your passwords – and your money

How to protect your passwords – and your money

Chances are you bank and shop online, and you use the Internet to manage your brokerage accounts, retirement plans, credit cards and mortgage.

The convenience is great – no more waiting for monthly or quarterly paper statements to check on your accounts. But hackers have followed the money, creating a threat for investors and consumers.

As everyone’s financial lives move online, the statistics say you’ll become a victim of identity theft sooner or later. Thieves have stolen data from many major companies, including Target, Equifax and Facebook.

This new reality means it’s no longer good enough to create passwords using your birthday or your pet’s name. A rule of thumb: If your password is simple enough that you can remember it, it’s simple enough that a hacker can crack it.

It’s up to you to limit the damage identity thieves can cause. You can do that by taking charge of your passwords.

Everyone should use a password manager, a service that generates unique, complex passwords for all of your accounts, and then remembers them. This is a crucial step for protecting your online privacy and security.

Password managers typically cost a few dollars a month. For instance, one of the leading companies charges $2.99 for individuals and $4.99 for families per month.

Cybersecurity experts say your passwords should be random strings of numbers and characters. But good luck remembering them.

That’s where password managers come in. These services create passwords, assigning hard-to-crack codes for each of your online accounts. Password managers store your passwords in a digital vault locked behind a single master password. Then, when you sign in to your checking account or your retirement plan, the password manager logs you in.

These services also monitor your accounts for security breaches, scout for weak passwords and sync your passwords among your computer, phone and tablet.

Password managers require some set-up time. But after you’ve installed a password manager, you can resume surfing the Internet as usual, with the comfort that your data is a bit safer.

In addition to paying for password management, you should use two-step authentication, also known as multi-factor authentication, whenever possible to safeguard your online accounts. Most banks and brokers offer this option. For instance, when you log in to your account with Fidelity or Vanguard, you’ll provide your password. Then the broker sends you a temporary code in a text message or email that you use to log in.

 


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