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Batten down the cyber hatches

Batten down the cyber hatches

by Arnold Machel CFP

 

“The Lord detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favour with him.” -Luke 11:21 (NIV)

A couple of months ago, I talked about the signs to watch out for in order to protect your money from financial swindlers. This month, I want to talk about protecting yourself from cyber criminals who commonly use elicit means to defraud or to blackmail individuals.

This article has been written in collaboration with my son, Ben Machel.

Unlike cyber attacks against specific large corporations, governments or other agencies, most personal cyber attacks are opportunistic and use a shot gun approach rather than specific targeting. The good news is that makes it easy to protect yourself from normal hackers.

The bad news is that a serious targeted attack by a skilled hacker is exceedingly difficult and expensive for any individual to fully protect themselves against. It’s kind of like your personal residence. If somebody really wants to break into your house; if they are willing to break down your doors or windows and subdue you by any means necessary, you can prevent that, but absolute prevention is exceedingly expensive to the point where the cost exceeds the benefit.

In the same way that putting a little security system in your home will discourage the vast majority of thieves, so a little bit of cyber protection can be enough to keep you safe from all but the most determined of hackers. All you really need is enough for them to move to the house next door or in this case, the next computer on their list. If they can’t crack yours in 40 seconds, they’ll usually go on to the next.

So, what should you do to protect yourself? We’ve assembled a few Do’s and Don’ts and a password idea that should help you stay clear of the black hats.

Let’s start off with a few Do’s and Don’ts:
Don’t put a USB drive into your computer unless you trust its source. Don’t force your computer to ingest something unless you know where it’s been.
Don’t click a link or open an attachment unless you are expecting it and don’t ever download anything unless it’s from a trusted source.
Avoid public Wi-Fi. Hackers can easily spoof public Wi-Fi routers and see everything on your computer.
Do keep your browsers and software up-to-date.
Do use a different password for different programs or sites.
Do change your password frequently, and;
Do make it a difficult one.

With regard to passwords, it can be very difficult and frustrating to manage when you have many of them. One idea I received from a cyber-security expert recently was to use an old spy trick with a new twist. Use a password generation/management program (eg. 1Password, LastPass, Keeper, etc.) for most programs.
However for your main password, use a formula something along these lines…
Pick a book you have lying around that you don’t care about. You may want to start at the beginning of the story or the first page of the first chapter. Create your own password formula.

For example…
Use the first letter of each word in the first sentence, but
Switch the first “e” with the number 3 and the first “a” with an @ symbol, and
If the sentence is too short, then either add the next one or only use the next one, and
If it’s too long, cap it at 15 characters
At the beginning of each month, rip out that page and start anew.
Adjust the above to suit yourself. You will want some numbers, capital and lower case, and special characters to be part of the password formula.
I just grabbed a book out of my library and by using the above rule set, “In the fall of 1993, a man who would upend much of what we know about habits…” became the password Itfo1@mwwumowwk. Good luck cracking that, hackers!

Using the above strategy means that for your first login of the day you will likely need to consult your “code book” to enter your password, but after that your program manages all the rest, significantly reducing your effort overall.

Follow the simple steps above and you will be a world ahead of most other computer users and much, much less likely to ever be the victim of a cyber attack.

Arnold Machel, CFP® lives, works and worships in the White Rock/South Surrey area where he attends Gracepoint Community Church. He is a Certified Financial Planner with IPC Investment Corporation and Visionvest Financial Planning & Services. Questions and comments can be directed to him at dr.rrsp@visionvest.ca or through his website at www.visionvest.ca.

Ben Machel is a resident of Vancouver and has worked in the financial industry since 2016. In 2018 he passed the Canadian Securities Course and is currently enrolled in the globally recognized Certified Financial Planning curriculum. He is an associate adviser with IPC Investment Corporation and Visionvest Financial Planning & Services.
Please note that all comments are of a general nature and should not be relied upon as individual advice. The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of Arnold Machel and Ben Machel and may not necessarily reflect those of IPC Investment Corporation. While every attempt is made to ensure accuracy, facts and figures are not guaranteed.

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