Online security more important ever as hackers run amok

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 August, 2014, 4:08am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 August, 2014, 6:56am

A break-in at a home is quickly noticed. We do not so easily, if at all, realise that our online identity or internet banking password has been stolen. The biggest such breach yet, uncovered by an American internet security firm, reveals that perhaps one-third of the world's internet users have had personal data snatched without their knowledge. It's a surprising discovery, as much for the scale of the crime as for highlighting how vulnerable the internet is to basic attacks.

The hoard of 1.2 billion user names and passwords and at least 500 million email addresses was traced to Russia. There, a gang had been selling the data to other online criminals after farming it from computers infected with and controlled by viruses. This is a simple and well-known way of illicitly snatching online information. The ingenuity and ever-evolving nature of the internet means that no website can ever be guaranteed hacker-proof, but the most basic advice on internet security is obviously still being ignored.

We have often heard what to do to protect our personal information: regularly change passwords; use different ones for each site; make sure that they are a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters; and store them with password managing software. The most important sites we visit should have two-factor authentication and transaction records should be frequently checked and suspicious activity reported. Computers should be protected with updated security software.

With so much of our personal lives online and the internet ever more important for banking, shopping and doing business, we should treat the most important websites we visit like our homes. Special attention has to be paid to email accounts, which are in effect the front door to our online lives; access to them has to be carefully guarded. Firms and banks that find security has been compromised should promptly alert customers. The biggest-ever theft of data has to be a wake-up call for the world to get serious about online security.