With the term "hacking" trending across news feeds all over the world, it can be helpful to hit reset, take a breath from the headlines and start at the beginning.
So ... what exactly is hacking and what does it mean to me?
Technically, hacking can be defined as using a computer to gain unauthorized access to data in a system. But now, what does that really mean to you? One simple analogy would be, think of hacking and hackers as the new pickpocket.
OK fine, but why does hacking matter to me? Basically, if you are a victim of hacking your data can be used against you. By using this data against you, people can access your money, files and other personal information. In short, hackers can pretend they are you and take advantage of you and your accounts for their benefit.
What can you do to protect yourself?
First and foremost, use strong passwords. It sounds simple enough but it's time to ask yourself some hard questions about your password policy. As food for thought, the following commonly used passwords can be hacked almost instantly, "123456" "password" or the almighty "qwerty" (look down at your keyboard and you will see).
However, "Password!" becomes a password that will take a week to crack, "Pa33word!" would take closer to four weeks, "!Pa&&word!" would take close to one year while "Ihave2kids" would take just about 5 million years to be hacked. So if nothing else, update your passwords and consider using sentences.
The next thing you can do to protect yourself is simply to be careful about what you click on and open when you are online. In general, don't click on unknown emails from unknown folks and don't click on unknown links or unfamiliar pop-ups. As a general rule, consider clicking on a link like opening the door to your online home, if you wouldn't answer your doorbell, don't click.
Further, it is important to protect your private information online. Sharing the following information online can put you at risk: your Social Security number, your bank accounts, phone numbers, birthdays and your address. As a rule of thumb, if it's not something that you would be comfortable sharing with a stranger, do not share it online.
And while this might be common sense, be smart about what you share on social media. You would be surprised by the amount of breadcrumbs people leave for hackers or opportunists when posting comments or pictures of them and their family during their trips abroad.
With all this being said, it is good to be proactive about protecting yourself online. However, most hackers are not looking to target individuals, so while it seems very scary and sinister, simply do your best to protect yourself. And remember, "password" or "qwerty" might not be your best defense.
Matt Munro, founder of Groovy Tek Personal Technology Training, can be reached at 303-317-2800 or visit the company website at GroovyTek.com. This column was provided by the Seniors' Council of Douglas County, a volunteer group affiliated with Douglas County's Adult Services Program. SCDC presents the concerns and ideas of senior residents to their elected officials through advocacy, education and collaboration with other organizations dedicated to assisting seniors.