Hacked! A Lesson for Students

Categories: News
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Published on: August 11, 2012

IT journalist Mat Honan lost a year’s worth of digital work and memories to a couple of hackers, and he got off easy. Depending upon what else he tied to his email accounts, the damage could have been a whole lot worse.

This is something we should be exposing our students—and probably staff—to, because there are a number of lessons here:

1) It doesn’t matter how secure your computer and smartphone are when the real weak link is the company employee on the other side of a phone call.

2) Back up your data, back up your data, back up your data. Time Machine on the Mac is perfect for the average home user, and it couldn’t hurt to invest a few bucks in a service like Crashplan for off-site protection in case of a fire, tornado, or similar disaster.

3) A complex password is good. Multiple complex passwords are even better. Using the same password for multiple services invites disaster, because when you give up one, you give up everything.

4) A little inconvenience in the beginning is worth it in the long term. Two-factor authentication, which is a combination of both something you know (a password) and something you have (an electronic token, or your smartphone), is a great option. Many banks already use this: when a customer logs in, a second passcode is sent to their phone via voice or text.

Honan should have known better. As an IT journalist, he’s familiar with all of these concepts. But it’s easy for any of us to get complacent. We’re all human, and despite the horror stories, the odds of actually becoming a victim to a hack like this are fairly slim.

Google Apps accounts (at least, Google Apps for Ed) don’t have two-factor authentication, but after reading this article, I set it up for my personal Gmail account. The setup is easy, and this video walks folks through it:

It took maybe ten minutes in total, including all the separate times setting up the nine different one-off passwords for things like Gmail on my phone, Chrome on two different computers, the newsreader on my iPad, and so on. About once a month I’ll have to enter a code from my phone to stay logged in to my Google account on the two computers I use daily.

I can live with that for safety’s sake.

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