• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
4m 34s

Hackers steal millions of passwords

By CBS News 12:58 PM December 5, 2013

The Netherlands seemed to be targeted the most.

NEW YORK- Nearly 2 million user names and passwords for Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Google, and other popular sites have been compromised and circulated online, Internet security researchers report.

The security firm Trustwave SpiderLabs first discovered the breach and posted its findings online.

The hackers’ massive database included stolen information from some 320,000 email accounts, 318,000 Facebook accounts, and 21,000 Twitter users, Trustwave said. Many Russian-language social networking sites were also targeted.

Most of the accounts do not appear to belong to users in the United States. CNET notes that fewer than 2,000 of the stolen login credentials affect U.S. users.

The Netherlands seemed to be targeted the most, accounting for 97 percent of the stolen passwords, followed by Thailand, Germany, Singapore, and Indonesia.

Trustwave researchers combed through the stolen passwords and made another disturbing discovery: Thousands of people used the same weak and easily crackable passwords. The company says more than 15,000 of the affected users had set “123456”as their password, and about 2,000 each just used the word “password” or “admin.”

In Trustwave’s analysis, only 5 percent of the stolen passwords were considered excellent and 17 percent were good. The rest were moderate or worse.

Internet security experts say many breaches occur because passwords are too easy to guess, although that may not have been a factor in this case. They offer a number of tips to help keep your personal data safe from hackers:

-Make them long. The minimum should be eight characters, but even longer is better.

– Use combinations of letters and numbers, upper and lower case and symbols such as the exclamation mark. Try to vary it as much as you can. “My!PaSsWoRd-32” is far better than “mypassword32.”

– Avoid words that are in dictionaries, as there are programs that can crack passwords by going through databases of known words. These programs know about such tricks as adding numbers and symbols, so you’ll want to make sure the words you use aren’t in the databases. One trick is to think of a sentence and use just the first letter of each word — as in “tqbfjotld” for “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

-Avoid easy-to-guess words, even if they aren’t in the dictionary. Avoid your name, company name or hometown, for instance. Avoid pets and relatives’ names, too. Likewise, avoid things that can be looked up, such as your birthday or ZIP code.

-Many sites let you reset your password by answering a security question, but these answers — such as your pet or mother’s maiden name — are possible to look up. So try to make these answers complex just like passwords, by adding numbers and special characters and making up responses.

When a malicious hacker gets a password to one account, it’s often a stepping stone to a more serious breach, especially because many people use the same passwords on multiple accounts. So if someone breaks into your Facebook account, that person might try the same password on your banking or Amazon account. Suddenly, it’s not just about fake messages being posted to your social media accounts. It’s about your hard-earned money.

It’s particularly bad if the compromised password is for an email account. That’s because when you click on a link on a site saying you’ve forgotten your password, the service will typically send a reset message by email. People who are able to break into your email account, therefore, can use it to create their own passwords for all sorts of accounts. You’ll be locked out as they shop and spend, courtesy of you.

If the compromised password is one you use for work, someone can use it to break in to your employer’s network, where there are files with trade secrets or customers’ credit card numbers.

Many services offer a second level of authentication when you’re accessing them from a computer or device for the first time. These services will send you a text message to a phone number on file, for instance. The text message contains a code that you need in addition to your password. The idea is that a hacker may have your password, but won’t have ready access to your phone.

Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter are among the services offering this dual authentication. It’s typically an option, something you have to turn on. Do that. It may be a pain, but it will save you grief later. In most cases, you won’t be asked for this second code when you return to a computer you’ve used before, but be sure to decline that option if you’re in a public place such as a library or Internet cafe.

Don’t get complacent — change your passwords regularly. It’s possible your account information is already circulating. If you have a regular schedule for changing passwords for major accounts, you reduce the amount of time that someone can do harm with that information.

You’ll need to decide what counts as a major account. Banking and shopping sites are obvious, as are email and social-networking services. It probably doesn’t matter much if someone breaks into the account you use to read newspaper articles (unless it’s a subscription).

And strong passwords alone won’t completely keep you safe. Make sure your computer is running the latest software, as older versions can have flaws that hackers have been known to exploit. Be careful when clicking on email attachments, as they may contain malicious software for stealing passwords. Use firewalls and other security programs, many of which are available for free.

Latest Stories

  • News

    Facebook bans white nationalist over hate speech

    by CBS News on Aug 16, 17:08

    MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – Facebook (FB) has banned the Facebook and Instagram accounts of a white nationalist who attended the rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that ended in deadly violence. Facebook spokeswoman Ruchika Budhraja tells The Associated Press that the profile pages of Christopher Cantwell have been removed as well as a page connected to his podcast. […]

  • News

    Governors of 2 pot states push back on Trump administration

    by Associated Press on Aug 16, 16:34

    JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) – Governors in at least two states that have legalized recreational marijuana are pushing back against the Trump administration and defending their efforts to regulate the industry. Alaska Gov. Bill Walker sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week, asking the Department of Justice to maintain the Obama administration’s […]

  • News

    Loss of sea ice leads walruses to early appearance in Alaska

    by Associated Press on Aug 16, 15:51

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says Pacific walruses have begun coming ashore along Alaska’s northwest coast, and it’s likely because sea ice in the Arctic Ocean already has receded beyond the outer continental shelf. Walruses by the thousands in recent years have come ashore in early fall. The agency says […]

  • News

    NY Times’ editorial page editor: No apology for Sarah Palin

    by Associated Press on Aug 16, 15:42

    NEW YORK (AP) – The editorial page editor of The New York Times has been grilled in federal court by a lawyer for Sarah Palin, who’s suing over an editorial that linked right-wing political rhetoric to the 2011 shooting of former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords. The newspaper published the editorial in June after a gunman […]

  • News

    Airport post office taking over Anchorage passport applications

    by Chris Klint on Aug 16, 15:09

    If you’re applying for a U.S. passport in Anchorage you’ll soon have to head for the airport, as the U.S. Postal Service puts all of its local passport-related operations under a single roof. A dedicated passport center will open five days a week, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday through Monday, at the main […]

  • Peter Pan Seafoods Port Moller plant devastated in overnight fire

    by Dave Bendinger / KDLG on Aug 16, 13:13

    The 100-year-old Peter Pan Seafoods processing plant in Port Moller has been devastated by a massive fire that burned through the night and into Wednesday morning. So far no one has been reported injured, but power, running water, and most phone and internet connections are down in the remote community. Chris Clemens skippers the fishing […]

  • Penn. man fined $9K over false residency claim in Alaska bear hunts

    by KTVA Web Staff on Aug 16, 12:52

    A man from Pennsylvania will pay a steep penalty over two illegal Alaska bear kills, after Alaska Wildlife Troopers say he falsely claimed to be an Alaska resident when he applied to hunt them near the Brooks Range. Brian Schoenly, 53, was ordered to pay $9,000 in fines plus $1,900 in restitution, troopers spokeswoman Megan […]

  • DayBreak

    Workforce Wednesday: Dental laboratory technician

    by Daybreak Staff on Aug 16, 11:36

    A Dental Laboratory Technician is a career in the medical field which directly impacts a person’s day-to-day life and requires attention to detail. Sean Siegal, owner of Castable Ceramics, says the goal is to take prescriptions from local dental offices and fill them. This would entail creating crowns, molars, and even dentures. These ceramics are not […]