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Technology: Your Passwords Can No Longer Protect You!

You know how online banking, career, gaming, and other accounts now press you to create ‘unique’ user names and ‘strong’ passwords? Okay, see the guy above? He’s Mat Honan. He protected all his online accounts using the strongest such measures; and he declares that that so-called ‘protection’… was an illusion. In his words:

This summer, hackers destroyed my entire digital life in the span of an hour. My Apple, Twitter, and Gmail passwords were all robust—seven, 10, and 19 characters, respectively, all alphanumeric, some with symbols thrown in as well—but the three accounts were linked, so once the hackers had conned their way into one, they had them all.

– Mat Honan

Since suffering at the hands of hackers (who, it turns out, just wanted to hijack his plumb of a Twitter handle @Mat), Mat devoted himself ‘to researching the world of online security…[and what he found] is utterly terrifying.’  In a very thorough write-up, Mat explores the problems… challenges… futility of trying to fully secure accounts and systems using passwords: Hackers using code and algorithms to successfully guess passwords to savvy evil-doers using new school cons to trick authorized personnel into giving up the goods.  Walking readers through it all, Mat comes to a chilling conclusion. We are dangerously exposed, and relying on current data security methods, relatively defenseless against those who want to access and do major damage to us using our data. Mat succinctly sums the security situation coldly:

The age of the password is over. We just haven’t realized it yet.

So, what is the way forward? Well, we have to move away from relying on passwords that can be cracked or single elements of personal data that can be stolen – like key cards, or even fingerprints. The problem of fending off increasingly more sophisticated hack attacks is complex. Accordingly, the new countermeasures have to be complex… without making it so difficult to access and use data to conduct business and live. Mat suggests biometrics (er… it’s like ‘fingerprinting’ on steroids) as something to try:

Devices might require a biometric confirmation just to use them. (Android phones can already pull this off, and given Apple’s recent purchase of mobile-biometrics firm AuthenTec, it seems a safe bet that this is coming to iOS as well.) Those devices will then help to identify you: Your computer or a remote website you’re trying to access will confirm a particular device. Already, then, you’ve verified something you are and something you have. But if you’re logging in to your bank account from an entirely unlikely place—say, Lagos, Nigeria—then you may have to go through a few more steps. Maybe you’ll have to speak a phrase into the microphone and match your voiceprint. Maybe your phone’s camera snaps a picture of your face and sends it to three friends, one of whom has to confirm your identity before you can proceed.


See some tips regarding what you can do to strengthen your online defense NOW are posted after the jump.

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