Turn on Gmail’s 2-Step Verification – Now
Mat Honan’s account of an “epic hacking” attack is fascinating, frightening and instructive. You should read it. Here are some other things you should do, in ascending order of urgency:
- Read the story of what happened to my wife when six years’ worth of email — and associated photos, research notes, book drafts, calendar info, contacts, attached-file data, memorabilia, etc — were all zeroed out by a hacker, who was using the “Mugged in Madrid” scam and was probably operating from West Africa.
- Look into the wide variety of ways to make local, non-cloud copies of your important online information. I won’t get into all the details now, but for instance: You can use Thunderbird, Eudora, Outlook, Sparrow or some other system for periodic backups of your email and associated online files. (And then of course have some other way to back up what’s on your local hard drive.)
- Make sure that each of your important online accounts — bank, credit card, email, anything that could cause you grief if someone else got control of it — has (a) its own password, which (b) you have never used anywhere else. I rely on some mnemonic tricks, plus LastPass, to make this feasible — more on that another time.
- If you use Gmail, please, before you get up from this session at the computer, turn on the “2-step verification” that Google has offered, for free, since early last year. OK, you are allowed to get up if you don’t have your cell phone/smartphone at hand, because you’ll need that for the 2-step setup. You can read official instructions here and will find lots of associated advice around the Internet. Here is one installment I offered after my wife’s hacking episode last year.
In case there’s any doubt about the priority order I am suggesting, my advice is: First, if you use Gmail, set up the 2-step system; then fix any “recycled” password you’re using for accounts you care about protecting; thenthink about the offline backups etc.
Using the 2-step system is slightly less convenient than doing without it. For instance, every 30 days you will need to enter a special code into your desktop or laptop computers. And you’ll have the one-time chore of generating “application specific passwords” for your iPad, smartphone and some mail-handling programs.
Similarly, it is less convenient to carry keys around and have to lock and unlock your front door rather than just leaving it open. But believe me, the “inconvenience” resulting from leaving the door open can be worse, in the digital realm and the physical world alike.
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This article originally published at The Atlantic here.