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Passwords and Passing Information

We’ve had numerous articles over the years about strong passwords, thinking before you click and responding to requests for sensitive information. A recent seminar and a personal experience brought it all together. You still need to be mindful of several principles that can keep your systems – and your sensitive data – more secure.

At the seminar, conducted by a cyber expert from the State of New Jersey, the presenter said he “cringes” at the “stuff” he sees on walls when he walks into many offices. People have Wi-Fi passwords on sticky notes on the walls near their computers. Passwords are taped to monitors, or people use very simple, easy-to-crack passwords.

Yes, those notes are a convenience for busy, overworked people, and state employees are not exceptions. We’ve seen a lot the same things when we service our business clients – and you have to ask the question: Who else is seeing this information?

The answer is that countless people who you can’t recall have probably seen the information. Anyone who visits your offices can see passwords hanging on the walls of cubicles or taped to monitors. If you have a lot of traffic in your office, the chances are greater that your networks and data have been compromised. If salespeople, contractors and others need Wi-Fi access to work in your office, have you given them the network password instead of a guest network password? Even if you don’t have a lot of visitors, do you have a cleaning service? Any member of the cleaning crew could see that information and access your network and files.

The solution is simple: Don’t allow anyone in your office to leave passwords out in the open. If they must be written down so you and everyone in the office can access the correct information when they need it, then keep that information in a locked desk drawer.

You can take additional steps, such as changing your network password frequently, requiring your employees to change passwords frequently and establishing rules about the number of characters and types of characters that must be in a password. If outsiders need access to your network, set up a guest password – and change that even more frequently.

Remember, your security is only as good as the worst security of anyone who has access to your network.

Outside the office, make sure that you and everyone in your company have secure passwords for computers and mobile devices – especially if you have sensitive data, including passwords, on them. We can help you install and teach you how to use security systems that can lock computers and devices if they are lost or stolen.

Because we go in so many public places and can tend to leave computers and devices on a table, for example, it makes more sense to make more use of the cloud for storing sensitive data. Yes, we can lock devices and encrypt data, but unless you have a backup program, the data can be lost. We recommend both having a backup program and using one of the major storage providers such as Google, Dropbox, iCloud or Office 365. They all have security protocols to protect access – unless, of course, you have left your passwords on your computer or device or have used a simple, easy-to-crack password. They also have redundant systems to make sure your data are accessible anytime from anywhere.

While we are on the subject of security, this is a good time to remind everyone to think before you click. We recently installed a new PC for a client, and within a month, the client saw a pop-up message about a problem with the computer and a “solution” to fix it for $499. And instead of a credit card, the “solution” provider wanted the money transferred directly from a bank account. Fortunately, the client realized the error and was able to call the bank and freeze the account before the money was taken out – and before more was sucked out by the scam artist.

We were guilty of not thinking right away, too. One of our business partners sends us a check once or twice a year, and they wanted to switch to an ACH system. They sent us an email asking us to respond with our bank’s routing number and our account number.

I started to reply – without thinking it through – and then realized before I sent anything that this was an unusual request for sensitive information. I stopped and phoned the company. Yes, it was a legitimate request from our partner, but we can all learn two important security lessons from this:

  1. Don’t just respond to an emailed request for information – no matter how legitimate it looks. There are too many ways to spoof an email address or a phone number. Find the phone number of that person and that company independently, such as opening your browser and entering the website address (url) that you know or find through an online search.
  2. Never send sensitive information, such as passwords and bank accounts, by email. A phone call to the person you have identified as a legitimate employee who is designated to take your info is safe. So is using a secured page on a legitimate website.

Security is critical. If you have any questions about security measures for your system, email us or call us – 973-433-6676, and we will respond in a timely manner.