Northwestern’s Reality Check Tech Security Campaign Is A Good Lesson for Everyone

The Northwestern University office of Information Technology has a campaign going on across campus and online reminding students of basic, but often overlooked security measures they should take to protect themselves in the digital world. Colorful posters remind them to set strong passwords, look out for phishing scams, and be careful what they post on social networks.

Given that we’re talking college students and no high schoolers you might think that these reminders aren’t necessary. But time and again we’ve seen that even grown men and women fall prey to thinking that ‘password’ is a good password, among other things.

Are you smarter than a college freshman? Then be sure you’re not on the wrong side of these warnings.

PIN or Pattern Lock Your Smartphone

Reality Check: Mobile Device Locks

I’m guilty of this, too. But it is important to put an extra barrier between your emails, conversations, passwords, or contacts and someone who might happen to pick up your phone. This includes friends who think of themselves as funny, funny pranksters, frenemies, your kids, or the guy who swiped it out of your bag.

As the song says, if you like it then you shoulda put a PIN on it. Or a lock pattern.

Create A Strong Password

Reality Check: Password Security

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I don’t know why this is so hard for people to grasp, but do not use ‘password’ as your password. Same for 1234 or your birthday or your daughter’s name or anything else that easy to guess.

You also shouldn’t use the same password for everything. Because then if a malicious individual cracks one they won’t have access to everything.

The whole unique, hard to guess, easy to remember password thing is complicated, I know. Here are two tricks I use. The first was inspired by this XKCD comic:

XKCD: Password Strength

I chose a phrase that I can remember and that makes me giggle thinking about it. I also added three numbers in since some systems require them.

To change it up for different sites, I used this trick I found on Consumerist. What you do is create base words, like buttercup54, then add the first three letters of the website. So your Facebook password becomes buttercup54fac and Twitter is buttercup54twi.

I mix It up and use anywhere from 2 to 5 letters so it’s not completely easy to guess even if you do happen to find my base word. (No, it’s not buttercup54.)

Social Network Security

Reality Check: Social Network Security

Remember that the things you post on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, Pinterest and whatever other social networks you belong to are public unless you take the time to go through the privacy settings and lock your profile down. And if it’s public, someone will one day find it who is looking for information on you.

Perhaps that’s a potential love interest and perhaps that’s a potential employer. Either way, you don’t want the pictures from that keg party showing up, especially if you’re wearing anything similar to the girls in that poster. Yikes.

Even if you have your profile locked down, sometimes friends will tag pictures of you they took, which means it shows up as public without your permission. So keep on top of those notifications.

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Visit the Northwestern Computer Security Reality Check page for more good tips.

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