Many people know how to set up an email account and how use Facebook et al inside out. A lot of people know how to download an illegal copy of Photoshop to then call themselves a designer. And it really surprises me how many users don't even know how to secure their digital life in a proper manner.
The story of the epic hack has pretty much been all over the web in the last week, and it shed a new light on the possible extend of what might happen when you get hacked. In case you have missed it, here's the whole story. I recommend that you read it. Don't read it later. Read it now.
This was an interesting case, regarding how the accounts actually got compromised and the hacker gained access to these. In a broader view, the big security problem actually starts much earlier, at least for a majority of people that is.
In the past, published lists of hacked accounts like the ones from Yahoo or LinkedIn, show that a lot of users still use passwords like "123456", "password", their first and last name or birthdays. This is bad.
You can check your passwords here, this will at least give you a rough idea about how safe your password might be. It's still no guarantee, but a good starting point to create a better password for sure.
Another really good idea is to not use the same password for all of your services, accounts, etc. Even small variations will help you to stay on the safer side of things.
This article is a good primer on how to create more secure passwords.
Storing Your Passwords
Now that you've had a look at your passwords and how they should probably be more secure, you might ask how to keep track of all your new and more secure, thus ’complicated’ passwords.
I personally use Yojimbo, a very reliable information organiser for Mac OS X, which allows me to save notes, serial numbers, PDF documents, images and of course: passwords. For better security, Yojimbo lets you encrypt Passwords using core Mac OS X technologies.
There are numerous tools out there that can help with storing passwords, but I haven't used any of those extensively. One of the most famous ones should be 1Password, which I know a lot of people use, but I could never be bothered to transfer all my passwords from Yojimbo to 1Password.
Backing Up Frequently
Another issue I have noticed that is completely underrated, are backups. Most people do not back up their computers. And their personal data. When asked, they often have the same answers: "It won't happen to me…" or "It's not gonna be so bad…".
Yes, it's usually not sooo bad, until you loose something important that you should better not have lost and it actually happened to you. Sooner or later everybody will learn their lesson and this is just a matter of time.
I wanted to write some more about how to backup your stuff and be on the safe side, but Shawn Blanc has already done this very well. Read his article and learn how to set up a rock-solid backup system with offsite-backups.
Shawn Blanc: Backup
Shawn Blanc: Off-Site Backups
Just for reference, I'm using pretty much the same setup as mentioned in these articles, just without any cloud back services, even though this is something I will look into in the near future.
Over the last 10 years or so I have experienced quite a few drive crashes and drive failures, ranging from minor read/write errors to serious physical damage with different levels of success in recovery. The lesson learned: It's better to be safe than sorry.