Cyberbits: October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month: When was the last time you changed your passwords?


This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA-NC.

James Hayes, Contributing Writer

With Halloween around the corner, we can all agree there is nothing more unsettling than the unseen menace in the dark. Well, those horrors are not just reserved for trick-or-treaters in creepy costumes. Old and reused passwords can act as open windows and unlocked doors for real-life creeps to enter your private life and turn your world into a terror fest.

Have you ever wondered what happens to hacked passwords? Most of them go to this place called the “Dark Web.” But what IS the Dark Web?

Many people don’t realize it, but you can only access a small percentage of the internet. What you can access is indexed through search engines, and it’s often referred to as the “Clear Web.” The rest is known as the “Deep Web” and the “Dark Web.” 

These terms may be used interchangeably, but they’re not closely related. The “Deep Web” is where you log into websites (think your electronic medical records, private content on your Instagram page, email messages, etc.). Unfortunately, those things aren’t “indexed” – you can’t find them doing a Google search. 

The Dark Web is the place where passwords are bought and sold. We’ve almost become immune to headlines about data breaches and hacks. We don’t even think about changing our passwords. But think about this – cybercriminals can access things like your personal email and social media accounts if your password has been compromised. They can access your bank account information and go on a fraudulent shopping spree. Even worse, they can steal your identity.

While it can be a hassle to change your passwords, it should be something you do periodically. In cybersecurity, we refer to this as having good “cyber hygiene.” Think about it – you wash your hands frequently, shower regularly, and cover your mouth when you cough. With good cyber hygiene, you’ll change your passwords regularly. You won’t share your passwords with anyone. In addition, you’ll regularly update your operating system and applications and use anti-virus/anti-malware software.

Passwords can be stolen through phishing emails. For example, you may get an email or text message telling you to change your password immediately. Think before you respond to this. Many times, these emails present some kind of urgency. One example of a phishing email or text message is an urgent message stating, “you will lose access to your email if you don’t respond within 24 hours”. Another example is “your account has been compromised – click here for important information.” 

These phony “password change” emails include a link redirecting you to a phishing website. These websites are created by cybercriminals who hope you’ll give them your username and password. Once you do that, they’ve got access to all your information. It could be your email, social media, or bank account information.

Protect your passwords by changing them regularly. This may seem daunting, but it’s all a part of good “cyber hygiene.” Don’t reuse passwords; don’t use the same password for every site you visit. 

October is Cybersecurity Month, and we want you to stay Cyber-Safe!