• 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

    ANSEP aims to excite students about STEM

    by Makayla Clark on Jun 23, 18:31

    Anchorage students put their designs to the test Friday. They hooked a suspended box onto bridges they designed and built out of balsa wood and glue. They then put metal balls into the boxes until the bridges snapped. “This is a very good opportunity to learn,” Jason Kyle, a student at the academy, said. “I […]

  • Man accused in 7-car hit-and-run charged with DWI

    by KTVA Web Staff on Jun 23, 17:20

    One man has a laundry list of charges after a hit-and-run on June 9 near the inbound intersection of the Glenn Highway and Airport Heights Drive. Jake Sundog Rotzler-Martus, 31, is charged with first- and third-degree assault, DWI, reckless driving and leaving the scene of an accident, according to charging documents. On June 9, a […]

  • Politics

    Alaska lawmakers headed home, but session isn’t over yet

    by Liz Raines on Jun 23, 16:50

    Many lawmakers are headed home after passing a budget late Thursday night to prevent a government shutdown next week. But the final gavel hasn’t fallen yet. If lawmakers felt a sense of accomplishment after finally passing a budget, the satisfaction was short-lived. Less than two hours later, Gov. Bill Walker added a new issue to […]

  • News

    Budget cuts threaten rollout of earthquake early warning system

    by CBS News on Jun 23, 16:32

    In an earthquake, having the latest information could be key to survival. At the “quake cottage” in Burbank, California, scientists are working to warn people before earthquakes hit. The facility is home to a state-of-the-art quake simulator where you know exactly when the shaking is going to start. But what if you could get a […]

  • News

    F-16 Thunderbird crashes, flips over at Dayton International Airport

    by CBS News on Jun 23, 16:29

    DAYTON, Ohio — A military plane that was practicing for an air show in heavy fog has crashed at an airport in Ohio, officials said Friday. CBS affiliate WHIO-TV reports an F-16 Thunderbird crashed and overturned shortly before 1 p.m. at the end of a runway at Dayton International Airport. The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds […]

  • News

    Was Russian hacking of Ukraine’s power grid a test run for U.S. attack?

    by CBS News on Jun 23, 16:27

    In its July cover story, Wired magazine takes an in-depth look at a years-long string of cyberattacks in Ukraine that could have global implications. It has undermined every sector including the media, military, politics and even people’s homes. Andy Greenberg, who reported the story, and Wired editor-in-chief Nicholas Thompson joined “CBS This Morning” to discuss […]

  • News

    White St. Louis police officer shoots off-duty black officer

    by CBS News on Jun 23, 16:24

    A black off-duty St. Louis police officer was shot by a white on-duty police officer from the same department who apparently mistook him for a fleeing suspect, according to a statement from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. At about 10 p.m. Wednesday evening, St. Louis police received a report that a stolen vehicle had […]

  • News

    Teen’s molester moves in next door upon prison release

    by CBS News on Jun 23, 16:19

    CREEK COUNTY, Oklahoma – An Oklahoma family wants to change the state law that allowed the man who molested their daughter years ago to move in next door after getting out of prison, reports CBS affiliate KWTV. “I don’t like feel like I can come home,” says Danyelle Dyer, who is now speaking out about […]