Catch up to the internet

Do you remember when the internet first emerged? We’re not talking about its absolute origins, the privy of a few exceptionally smart individuals, but when the internet really started to infuse into the everyday activities our lives. For most people, of a certain age that is, it was the late 90s when it all really kicked off.

Back then though, we were more interested in emails than the web per se, websites not really offering much in terms of the perfect marriage of aesthetics and content. Instead, it was the buzz of being able to contact one another instantaneously that hooked us onto this new technological development. And it could be done globally.

It was, to all intents, the only account we “signed up to”. If we were inclined to actually browse the web, we wouldn’t need to log in to pages. Online banking didn’t exist, shopping was still about popping down the high street, and Facebook, well, Mark Zuckerberg was still in nappies, right?

After the dotcom bubble burst, things changed, the pieces fell in place and boom, soon there was a proliferation of knowledge, money and clout, a perfect coalescence of software and hardware. Now, in the year 2012, we have a smooth operating machine that allows us to do pretty much everything online.

This new order requires a lot of accounts, by virtue of which we need lots of passwords. It can be problematic from a memory point of view, but more so, in terms of data protection, it has real security implications.

Which is why the figures from a new report are startling. Experian’s CreditExpert’s web monitoring service revealed that between January and April this year alone, over 12 million pieces of personal information were “illegally traded” online by cyber criminals.

Compare to the 9.5 million bits of information that were traded throughout the entirety of 2010 and you can appreciate how things have spiralled out of control. At the core of the data being passed around are login and password combinations. It’s like giving a thief the key to your house and then saying this is the code to the alarm, it never changes, go wild.

“The reason password and login combinations make up nine out of ten illegally traded pieces of data is because they give access to a huge amount of other valuable information, such as address books and related accounts,” explained Peter Turner, managing director at Experian Consumer Services in the UK and Ireland.

“Using a different password for each account will minimise risks, but if password information is stolen from a website, all accounts using the same details will be compromised, and this information can spread among fraudsters rapidly.”

The lesson to learn here is that although the internet has changed radically since its inception and been promoted from the fringes of usefulness and relevance to the big league – a central, ubiquitous and almost essential entity – our habits and attitudes haven’t come as far. We have to adapt, get with the programme, and treat the web seriously.

So, even though the number of accounts we have has increased massively, we haven’t responded with widening the number of passwords we use. It has just been easier to just have one static password, which we even concede to being lax. It’s wrong, we accept that, but we do nothing about it.

It’s worth repeating: the simple advice is to have a unique password for everything. This may seem like a lot of work, but the payoff is extraordinary: peace of mind backed up by a hefty dose of security. Experian’s guide to keeping your account secure is pretty decent.

It has four tips: avoid the obvious like pet names; have a lengthy password – ten or more characters is great; mix up lowercase and uppercase letters with numbers and special characters; and come up with a memory exercise to remember everything – sing a song with them in it – whatever works for you.

Bear all of that in mind and you’re definitely keeping with trends. The internet has come a long way since its early days, just ask Bill Gates.

“The internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.”

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