• 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

    Parnell fires more National Guard leaders; Walker says ‘too little, too late’

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Oct 20, 23:05

    Alaska’s governor has removed three leaders of the Alaska National Guard, effective immediately. A release from Gov. Sean Parnell’s office states that these transitions in the Guard’s senior leadership were made Monday at the governor’s direction. The removal of the three officials comes at a time when Parnell is in the process of selecting a permanent […]

  • News

    Girl Scouts bring special-needs shopping carts to Sitka

    by Heather Hintze on Oct 20, 19:46

    For those who have children with special needs, everything is a bit more challenging. Recently, Sitka resident Jeff Bentley brought his daughter, Jema, along on a trip to the grocery store. The five-year-old has epilepsy and cerebral palsy. “Jema, you want to sit in the cart?” Bentley asked her. The father says even a trip to […]

  • Weather

    Evening News weather, Oct. 20

    by KTVA Weather on Oct 20, 19:44

    Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound can expect clearing skies with some lingering snow showers in the morning. In the Southeast, showers will happen south of Sitka with a possibility of showers to the north. Patchy fog will develop along the land areas. Interior areas will have cloudy skies and flurries possible, while the North […]

  • Lifestyle

    Web Extra: Digging out

    by John Thain on Oct 20, 18:59

    We knew it was coming, but today’s snowfall still felt like a surprise. Were you ready for the snow? We asked some Rabbit Creek residents how they felt about the area’s first measurable snowfall of the season.

  • News

    First snow greets Anchorage

    by Lauren Maxwell on Oct 20, 18:42

    Anchorage’s first measurable snowfall of the season took some people by surprise, while others accepted it in stride. Darnell Little says he knew on Sunday that Monday’s snowfall would take place — not because he heard the weather forecast, but because he looked up at the mountains. “I told my wife, ‘I can’t see the […]

  • News

    ASD bans military recruiters after reports of alleged misconduct

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Oct 20, 18:01

    The Anchorage School District has banned all military recruiters from the district’s campuses until further notice. This decision comes in light of recent reports that allege members of the Alaska Army National Guard’s recruiting staff made inappropriate advances toward high school students. Superintendent Ed Graff with the Anchorage School District says last week’s leak of […]

  • Politics

    Early voting begins in Alaska

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Oct 20, 15:49

    Those who lined up at the Division of Elections headquarters in midtown Anchorage this morning were among the first in the state to cast their ballots for November’s general election. Voters across Alaska have more opportunity than ever before to vote early as the DOE has added 130 new locations for absentee and early voting. Those […]

  • News

    Begich urges more airport screenings for Ebola

    by Associated Press on Oct 20, 15:25

    U.S. Sen. Mark Begich has urged the president to expand health screenings at more international airports, including Anchorage, in response to Ebola concerns. In a letter to President Barack Obama, Begich said such “sensible travel restrictions” must be considered to help contain the outbreak in West Africa and prevent its spread to the U.S. U.S. […]