by Thapelo Letsoela

Ever noticed how sensitive people are when keying in their PIN at an ATM or at a till point when making a payment? Do you remember the era of diaries, how secretive and cautious people were when it came to their conversations in their diaries?

Well, we are still cautious when it comes to our bank PINs, but the “Dear Diary” days are a myth in this information era, all is done electronically. Phones and electronic devices have made things easier for us, everything is merely a few finger clicks away; be it banking, playing, interacting and even working.

The Digital Age has made the impossible happen. Who ever imagined talking to someone miles and miles away, continents apart? Just a tweet or post and you are connected to the rest of the world. A click and a WhatsApp text can reach a person in another country in an instant. You can instruct your home lights to be on while you are at your workplace, start a car engine while you are not in it. You are able to interact with people in a meeting in a different location – perhaps across the world – as if you were in the same boardroom.

What could possibly go wrong?

We have our banking apps on our phones, apps that save all our confidential information, confidential emails that are available in the cloud, a VPN connection that connects directly to your office and the only thing that stops intruders from accessing any of these is a pattern, password, PIN or fingerprint authentication.

Did you know that a hacker only needs an IP address of a network and a few programs and he can potentially ruin a company?  A link on an email can exploit the whole company network and expose an organisation to fraud and theft. Access to your personal family router at home can give away access to cameras and other household equipment connected to the network. Use of public WiFi networks is dangerous, as anyone with a network sniffer can see all the traffic being sent by anyone connected to the network. Safety comes first. Yes, big tech companies and banks deal with a lot of network upgrades and they are always trying to make sure that there are no loop holes. We as end users need to also be cautious of what we do. Here are some guidelines intended to helps us stay as safe as possible;

  • Don’t just connect to any network with your office devices, you don’t know who might be connected and for what purpose.
  • Email filtering is active, but that doesn’t mean you should open any links or files you receive from unspecified recipients.
  • Ad-blockers and firewalls are there to help, when accessing a bank website or make an online payment make sure the website address starts with “https://”
  • Banks don’t ask you to enter your bank PIN via emails and don’t give away your banking details to strangers.
  • Don’t just install something on your machine because it says “Click here to install”. Know what you install and what it does.

Offline storage is the best and will forever be the safest, instead of having an app on your phone with all your PINs and passwords, write them down on a notebook and always make sure it is kept in a safe place.

My advice to end users is: try not to be predictable, names or any information of your friends, family or enemy are not safe passwords. The simplest random passwords work.

Here’s a challenge; take a guess what this password is *****