Strong passwords, two-factor identification can help resist data breaches

Photograph of man in suit and tie
Personal finance management specialist Cole Ehmke

Strong and complex passwords for accounts and two-factor identification are practices that can help avoid breaches from leaking your data, according to the personal finance management specialist with the University of Wyoming Extension.

Data breaches and password leaks have struck companies such as Equifax, Facebook, Home Depot, Marriott, Target, Yahoo, and, most recently, Capital One, said Cole Ehmke.

“If you have online accounts, it’s possible hackers have gained data from one or more of them, and perhaps leaked it,” said Ehmke.

Consumers can check to see if their accounts might have been compromised by entering their email address on the website Have I Been Pwned – It cross-references your email address with hundreds of data breaches, he said.

“The most important thing you can do to protect your privacy and security is to have different complex passwords for every account,” said Ehmke, a member of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics. “Many people use a password manager to generate and remember passwords since it can be difficult to remember different strong passwords across all of the websites people access.”

He said the review website Wirecutter recommends password managers LastPass and 1Password. Both can generate passwords, monitor accounts for security breaches and sync passwords between your computer and phone.

Password managers can be intimidating to set up, and might have a cost, but once installed the internet can be browsed as usual, said Ehmke.

“Another big safety step is to enable two-step identification for accessing accounts whenever possible,” Ehmke said. “Two-step (or two-factor) identification combines what you know with what you have – the first factor is almost always your password, while the second is usually a temporary code sent to your phone or email. Most banks and major social networks provide this option.”

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