Important Password Security Guidelines

Hacker looking for password and user information

We have a lot of passwords these days used for everything from online magazine subscriptions to logging in to check our healthcare information. We trust many others with sensitive information and the only thing between us and that information is often, only a password.

Protecting that information is critical. Following are some guidelines regarding passwords and protecting them as well as the information they protect:

  • Don’t use words commonly found in any dictionary for your passwords. This includes dictionaries of foreign languages and slang terms and phrases. If you are thinking of substituting an “O” with a zero, don’t bother. The bad guys know about that trick. Spelling words backwards or with common misspellings; they know those too.
  • Never include personal details in passwords such as your name, child’s name, birthdates, address, or even pets. Those are not all that difficult to find out, so don’t make it easy on someone with ill intentions. 
  • When your password recovery options ask which questions you want to choose, pick ones that are not obvious and few people know the answers to; better yet, make things up. Just don’t forget your answers, if you choose this strategy.
  • Several studies have found out that using default passwords that come with devices is still very common or using simple ones such as “12345” or “qwerty.” In fact, SplashData found that in 2014, out of 3.3 million passwords checked, 20,000 of them were “12345.” The number 2 password is “password.”  Be more creative than this.
  • Password reuse is common, but a bad idea. This means using the same password for multiple accounts. Yes, using so many different ones may seem daunting, but it’s important. It’s particularly critical to make sure your social media, healthcare, and financial account passwords are completely different from one other and from everything else. 
  • When using public computers, in a hotel business center or internet café when traveling for example, make sure that the box to remember your password is NOT checked. If it is, then someone may use the computer after you and get access to your account.
  • If you are sitting in a coffee shopping enjoying a cup of joe and decide to check out the Internet using their free wireless, avoid logging into any accounts that have sensitive data, including your work accounts. Hackers are often found in these places using programs to intercept passwords. If you need to check something and it can’t wait till you get to a secured location, use the data network on your smartphone rather than the wireless. If you’re logging into your office, use a VPN.
  • It may seem obvious, but it happens a lot. Don’t tell anyone else your passwords. This includes anyone from your IT department. 
  • Make it a routine to change passwords to online accounts regularly. It is recommended to do this at least once every three months.
  • Don’t write passwords down and leave them out for others to see. If you must keep track, it is understandable. Just keep them separate from the computer and out of view. It’s better to create a clue sheet to help trigger your memory of the passwords, rather than writing them out.

It’s OK to have online accounts. They are convenient and help us stay on top of information and help us do our jobs. Just keep basic security guidance in mind when using them. 

© Copyright 2016 Stickley on Security

A Brief History of Valentine’s Day

Heart-Valentine-2016-backgroundIn addition to the United States, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia. In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day began to be popularly celebrated around the 17th century.

By the middle of the 18th, it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes, and by 1900 printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology. Ready-made cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one’s feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates also contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine’s Day greetings.

Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. Howland, known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as “scrap.”

Today, according to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. (An estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas.) Women purchase approximately 85 percent of all valentines.

history.com

Home Security Without Sacrificing Financial Security

Home-security

You see on the evening news that there have been several home break-ins in your area. Suddenly you begin to notice people walking the streets that you haven’t seen before. Strange noises at night have you wondering if someone is casing your house. For peace of mind, you decide to add security features to your home. Researching on the internet, you find that there are several companies that will sell you thousands of dollars worth of equipment and charge you for a monthly service plan.

But you begin to think: Do I really need to shell out big money just to protect my living space? If you’re like most people, the answer is that you really don’t. Unless word has gotten out about your solid gold coffee table, you’re probably fine taking one of the following inexpensive security measures.

Put Your Dog on the Case
If you’ve got a canine companion, have it sleep next to the front door, which is where most thieves enter a home. The idea isn’t to have Fido attack intruders, but rather do enough barking to scare them away.

Don’t Broadcast Your Plans
Burglars are pretty technologically savvy these days. They have been known to check the social media accounts of their neighbors to see when they are planning a vacation. Never post on any of your social media pages the times when you will be away from home. Also strongly consider low-tech measures to avoid letting the world know you are away from home. Have your newspaper subscription and mail put on hold while you are away and ask a friend to check in on your place at different times of day.

Lock Up Well
Believe it or not, a significant number of home invasions occur because the owners forgot to lock up. In addition to being diligent about securing your property, also think about how much protection your doors and windows give you. If your doors don’t have a deadbolt and reinforcement plate, you should add them now.

Shows Signs of Security
It may sound like a superficial step, but simply placing signs or stickers for a security system around your property could make the difference between being robbed and being skipped over. Law enforcement officials confirm this time and time again. You can find the signage for sale cheap on eBay.

Light it Up
Another easy step that could send a thief packing is to install motion-sensor lights around your house. The last thing a criminal wants is to be in the spotlight. If you are away from home a lot, considering installing a light timer that can turn on your inside lights on and off at random times or set intervals even while you are away.

Make Friends with Your Neighbors
A common ploy criminals use is to pose as a moving company and walk off with all your stuff in broad daylight. Often folks who live right next to the victims say nothing because they think it’s just a sign that the occupants are relocating. If you know the people who live around you, they are much more likely to step in and ask questions if something doesn’t seem right. These same friends may also be willing to look in on the place when you are away.

Install a Camera
It may sound like something from a TV program, but burglars really do case homes to see which look like easy targets. If they see a few security cameras mounted around the home, it can change their estimation of your house’s desirability to rob. The kicker is that the cameras only have to appear to work.

No Display Cases
More often than not, the person looking to rob you is not a diabolical career criminal cat burglar, but a local person who is just desperate for something they can sell fast. If a peek in the window makes your home look like a mini-department store full of fancy electronics, jewelry and other items easily sold on the black market, you may just be increasing the chances you will be robbed. You don’t necessarily have to lock up everything in a safe each night, but try to keep it out of the view of prying eyes.

Make Glass More Like Walls
Security film is a great way to start with making your windows less criminal-friendly. This relatively inexpensive measure makes your windows harder to break, meaning a burglar would have to create a lot of ruckus trying to get through. If you have sliding doors, always put a dowel in the gutter to make it harder for an intruder to force open the door.

Hi-Tech but Low-Cost Solutions
There are a number of James Bond-y gadgets that don’t cost a lot but can make your home more secure. One of the most popular these days, commonly known as a wireless or doorstop alarm system, is a fairly simple combination of motion-sensors and alarms. If anyone trips the motion-sensors while you have them turned on, a loud, burglar-scaring noise is blasted. If you want to go even more high-tech, you can install an app on your smart mobile device that will notify you if the alarm has gone off, give you the option of calling the police.

Another simple but effective gizmo is the fake TV light generator. Designed to give the impression that someone is watching TV in your home, this device shines lights on your windows that look just like someone is inside zoning out to the latest reality show. Instead of leaving your TV on the whole time you are away, this gadget allows you to give the impression that someone is home without facing a staggering electric bill.

If you are going to sleep better with a set-up that has all the latest and greatest features, and you can fit the cost into your budget, you can certainly consider going with a full-on alarm system. However, it’s important to know that there are many steps you can take to secure your belongings that won’t mean having to sell them off to pay for it.

© 2013 BALANCE

Keeping Your New Year’s Financial Resolutions

newyearsresolutions

Whether you’re talking about diet, exercise or money, keeping New Year’s resolutions is challenging. A University of Scranton researcher noted that “weight loss” is the current reigning resolution, followed by “improve finances” at No. 2.

And while the study (https://www.sharecare.com/health/healthy-new-years-resolutions/article/the-resolution-solution) showed that roughly 40-46 percent were successful in their specific goal at the six-month mark, more than half gave up.

Your personal finances need more dedication than that.

If you want to add some fairly easy money resolutions that can help your finances overall, consider the following:

Make your first budget or do a better job of reviewing the one you have. A 2013 Gallup survey reported that only one-third of Americans actually prepare a detailed household budget. Make your first resolution to create or review your household budget (http://www.practicalmoneyskills.com/budgeting) so you know where your finances stand at all times.

Budgeting involves day-to-day tracking of finances, but having a quick way to determine your net worth (http://www.practicalmoneyskills.com/worth) – your assets minus your liabilities – offers the biggest picture of how you’re doing and what next steps you might take to improve your circumstances. Make this calculation an annual kickoff to the New Year.

Having an emergency fund means you’re always ready for the unexpected. The average emergency fund generally covers three-to-six months of daily expenses – yours could be more or less. Keep in mind that the primary purpose of an emergency fund is to keep you away from savings when unexpected expenses happen.

Depending on your comfort level with all things digital, virtually every aspect of your financial life can be managed online or with computer-based software. From setting up a basic paper or online calendar to track pay dates, bill due dates and deposit dates for savings and investments, a daily series of reminders and action items will keep your money issues on time and on track.

Recommit to retirement. If you’re employed or self-employed, here’s how to make a retirement savings resolution stick. First, make sure you’re signed up for a 401(k), 403(b) or 457 plan at work or a corresponding SEP-IRA, self-directed 401(k) or other self-employment retirement plan that fits your tax and financial situation. Then check what your 2016 maximum contribution (www.irs.gov) is for your respective plan. Finally, through budgeting or a plan to bring in more income, determine how you can come as close to your maximum contribution as possible for the coming year. And of course, don’t forget about Traditional or Roth IRAs (https://www.irs.gov/Retirement-Plans/Traditional-and-Roth-IRAs) that you can contribute to independently of work-based plans. All of these options can improve your retirement prospects while saving you considerable money on taxes.

Review your non-retirement benefits and insurance. For most employed and self-employed people, open enrollment for health and other company benefits wrapped up before year-end. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make notes at any point in the year for possible changes and improvements to your health insurance and related tax-advantaged accounts. The same goes for reviewing your personal home, auto, life and disability coverage for potential savings and/or better coverage. Qualified advisors can help you review these choices.

Find more money to save. Whether it’s adjusting what you spend, paying off expenses or finding ways to bring in more income, saving more is one of the best financial objectives there is. The first step is to track and set spending limits – those limits will help you reset or eliminate expenses that are standing in the way of your goals.

Bottom line: Making New Year’s resolutions always sounds like a good idea at the time, but keeping them requires determination, study and focus. This year, build the kind of money habits that position you for success.

By Nathaniel Sillin

 

Know Your Money Psychology Style

moneypsychology

We all make decisions with our money at one point or another that don’t work out for the best. It’s just inevitable. But if you find yourself falling into patterns of behavior that lead to negative financial consequences, it could be time to examine a little more closely how you make these choices.

Experts who study how people make money decisions have identified certain psychological styles for doing so. While no one’s behavior is ever completely encapsulated in a simple description, see if any of the below profiles sounds like you and if so, how that impacts what you do with your money.

The over-giver
Uses monetary gifts to express feelings and connect with people. In some cases, this person may give gifts to others and neglect their own needs.

The soothing spender
Treats money as a tool for self-medicating through difficult times. May make a lot of rash spending decisions that lead to negative feelings later.

The status seeker
Makes money choices based on how it will appear to others and to boost their own self-esteem. Engages in “keeping up with the Jones” behavior to their own detriment.

The bargain maven
Gets a thrill out of finding discounts, whether the product is needed or not. Derives satisfaction not from having a sound financial plan in place, but the emotional boost they get from landing a deal.

The denier
Tries to avoid difficult money issues in the hope that things will “just sort of work out.”

The risk-taker

Always on the lookout for a get-rich-quick scheme like the lottery or highly speculative investments. Lacks patience and looks for shortcuts at the expense of prolonged security.

The hedonist
Sees money as a way to maximize pleasure right now instead of planning for the future.

The controller
Uses money as a way to gain control over people or their own circumstances. Sees money as a way to gain a feeling of safety.

The striver
Constantly looks for ways to improve financial standing for self and for family. May believe that with money comes power. Goal oriented.

The victim
Financial problems are always someone else’s fault. The system is “rigged” against them.

The ultra-conservative
Is afraid of losing money and opportunities for growth are sometimes lost because of it. May be overly affected by events from their earlier life that cause them to not want any risk in their financial affairs.

The prudent manager
Actively saves money, looks to future and avoids emotional money decisions. Seeks out opportunities to expand knowledge and is realistic about strengths and weaknesses.

No one can ever expect you to be perfect, but think about which of these styles your money decisions fall into and which category you would like to be in going forward.

If it helps, the next time you make a purchase or other money decision you end up regretting, ask yourself what emotions fed into that choice. Being able to identify these feelings will help you find better ways to deal with those situations and put you in greater power over your financial life.

 

© 2013 BALANCE

Take a Close Look at Social Security in 2016

ssn

If you’re not close to retirement age, it’s easy to ignore what Social Security is doing. However, some significant announcements late last year make now a very good time to pay attention.

What follows is a summary of notable changes to Social Security at the start of 2016 and ways to ensure you’re making the right retirement planning and claiming (http://www.consumerfinance.gov/retirement/before-you-claim/) decisions based on what’s ahead:

  1. 2016 Social Security payments won’t increase. In late October, Social Security (https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/) announced that there wasn’t enough inflation in 2015 to create a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to monthly benefits this year. Understandably, this announcement shook up recipients who look to Social Security for a significant part of their monthly income. It’s only the third time payments were frozen in the past 40 years since automatic COLA adjustments began, but here’s the rub – all three occasions occurred after 2010. In short, most seniors will have to live with an average monthly payment of $1,341 with married beneficiaries receiving a total of $2,212.
  2. Married and divorced individuals may have to rethink the way they claim benefits. Also last October, Washington settled a federal budget battle in part by closing some notable loopholes in Social Security law that allowed certain married couples to substantially increase their benefits over time and certain divorced individuals to claim benefits from former spouses under certain circumstances. These new restrictions on so-called file-and-suspend and restricted-claim strategies go into effect this coming May. In short, if you’re close to age 62 (the earliest age you can start claiming Social Security benefits) getting qualified advice has never been more important.
  3. Other COLA-related issues. When there’s no cost-of-living adjustment, there’s no change in the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax, which will stay at $118,500 in 2016. This means earnings above that level aren’t subject to the Social Security portion of the payroll tax or used to calculate retirement payouts. At the same time, the Social Security earnings limit for people who work and claim Social Security payments will stay at $15,720 in 2016 for people ages 65 and younger. Social Security beneficiaries who earn more than this amount will have $1 in benefits temporarily withheld for every $2 in earnings above the limit.
  4. Some benefits are going down – a little. The highest possible Social Security payment for a 66-year-old worker who signs up for Social Security this year will be $2,639 per month, down $24 from $2,663 in 2015. The reason? Social Security noted that despite no cost-of-living adjustment there was an increase in the national average wage index, one of the statistical guideposts the agency uses to calculate benefits.
  5. Service changes. If you haven’t created a My Social Security account, do so for two reasons: First, there have been reports of ID theft related to thieves attempting fraudulent signups for such accounts. Second, the agency is making more detailed account data available online such as estimates of monthly payments at various claiming ages. Also, Social Security expanded office hours in some of its field locations in 2015, so if you need face-to-face assistance, check hours of operation at your closest local office (https://secure.ssa.gov/ICON/main.jsp).

Bottom line: Social Security froze benefit amounts for the coming year, and that has an impact on both current and future recipients. You can’t fully understand your retirement without understanding how Social Security works, so now’s the time to learn.

By Nathaniel Sillin