Friday Donut tip: securing LinkedIn passwords

By: John McGarvey

Date: 8 June 2012

This week, online services LinkedIn, eHarmony and Last.fm all suffered security breaches which saw users' passwords fall into the hands of hackers. It's not the first time something like this has happened and it won't be the last: previous victims have included Gawker and Twitter.

I've mentioned before that I think passwords are broken. But they're here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. So for this Friday's Donut tip, we explain what you should do if you have an account with one of the affected services.

Secure your account

To begin with, be wary of any emails you receive warning that your password has been leaked. They might be genuine, but there are lots of phishing attempts going round too, so you're better off just deleting them.

The next step is easy: PANIC!

Actually, I'm just joking. You definitely don't need to panic. It's counterproductive and unnecessary, because it's actually pretty easy to secure your accounts:

  1. Go to the website of the service you use (LinkedIn, eHarmony or Last.fm)
  2. Log in using your normal username and password
  3. Use the change password option to make your password something completely new
    (Don't just change a single letter or number of your old password - use something totally different. At this stage it's a good idea to make sure your password is nice and strong. I've put some tips below)

That's it, unless - like most people - you use the same or a similar password for other things. You see, scammers aren't stupid, and they know that if you use that password for your LinkedIn account, perhaps you also use it - or something similar - for more important services, like your email.

This means you also need to change any identical or similar passwords that you use on other services. You should really have a different password for each one.

Creating strong passwords

You've probably seen the usual advice about creating strong passwords. Use upper and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols, don't use words you'd find in the dictionary, and so on. But these passwords can be devilishly hard to remember.

I like the song lyrics trick: take a memorable line from a song, pull out the first letters of each word, then wrap it in a number that you can remember.

For instance, a Rolling Stones fan might choose the first line from Sympathy for the Devil: 'Please allow me to introduce myself'. And he might be able to remember 1960, because that's the year he was born.

Shortened, it becomes 19Pamtim60. Not bad.

Alternatively, you can use a tool like LastPass to generate and remember super-strong passwords for you. John Sollars talked more about keeping passwords safe in a recent post over on Startup Donut.

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