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Smart Passwords 101: Cyber Safety Advice from Intel and McAfee

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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Chatham chapter.

Phishing. If you’ve been hooked, you know the danger: opening a surprise email with an intriguing subject line can land you in the net of a criminal. There are thousands of scammers hankering for your social security number and credit card info. The scariest part? They really know how to get it.

One of the first big burns of computer users was the “I Love You” worm. In 2000, millions of people thought they’d received romantic notes in their inboxes. Instead, the cleverly-disguised missive carried a terrifying virus that ultimately cost $15 billion in damages (that’s a lot of broken hearts). We may not be able to keep the danger out of our cyberspace, but we can certainly bolster our defenses.

Intel and McAfee celebrate Password Day on May 7th. Their goal: teach people how to create smart passwords. It’s simple, but it’s a wildly powerful way to make security a priority.




We’re inundated with opportunities to create accounts every day. Want to buy that hot pair of shoes online? You’ll be plugging in credit card info. Hoping to sign a puppy-protecting petition on a nonprofit’s website? They’ll often ask for your mailing address. Starting a graduate school application? You might have to provide a social security number. It’s crazy that so much of our personal info is being stored in databases all over the world, but it’s even crazier to think that such a big part of our life is being protected by a string of six to eight characters.  

Unfortunately, our guard is unintentionally down: 90% of passwords are hackable. Luckily, it’s never too late to give your accounts much-needed makeovers. Creating the perfect online lock doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s easy to think that the only line of defense is an amalgam of awkwardly arranged numbers, letters and symbols, but Intel says that a phrase is much better. To come up with something that isn’t easy to guess, they suggest asking yourself a question and then using the answer as your password.


Q: What’s your dorm room like?

A: “Cozy and comfortable”

Once you’ve created the ultimate password, it’s tempting to use it often, but it’s critical to change it up. If your passwords are the same, a good hack job on one site can compromise all of your accounts. Instead, ask yourself memorable questions, and you’ll get memorable answers.

Now you’ve got killer passwords, but how do you avoid a major scam? It’s likely that you’ll come face-to-face with a worm; it’s important to know how to spot one.

Start by controlling your space. Intel suggests avoiding use of flash drives you happen to pick up.

Next, control your interactions. If anyone asks for important financial or personal information online, don’t give it out. Intel says this manipulative phenomenon is called social engineering. Whether you get a creepy request in a chat room or a flirty friend on an online dating site asks for money, trust your gut: this is bad territory.

When it comes to ads, don’t believe any pop-up that says you’ve got a virus. This is literally called scareware: its goal is to freak you out enough that you download the antivirus software they’re selling, giving a hacker your account info and the easy ability to get a virus into your system. Intel says that if you get one of those messages, ignore it. If it looks like the message is coming from the antivirus software you already own, you can call IT or software support just to make sure something weird isn’t going on.

Now, back to phishing: to avoid being reeled in by a scammer, don’t click on odd links or open unexpected attachments. If you aren’t rock-solid certain that you know the sender of an email or you spot a strange subject line, just delete the message. Remember, cyber criminals count on curiosity and one bad click.

  Mara Flanagan is entering her seventh semester as a Chapter Advisor. After founding the Chatham University Her Campus chapter in November 2011, she served as Campus Correspondent until graduation in 2015. Mara works as a freelance social media consultant in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She interned in incident command software publicity at ADASHI Systems, gamification at Evive Station, iQ Kids Radio in WQED’s Education Department, PR at Markowitz Communications, writing at WQED-FM, and marketing and product development at Bossa Nova Robotics. She loves jazz, filmmaking and circus arts.