Don't make yourself an easy target

AMBIGUOUS: A well cultivated password is the first line of defence against hackers.
AMBIGUOUS: A well cultivated password is the first line of defence against hackers.

I was browsing my social media accounts earlier in the week. I saw a post from a friend and something didn't seem quite right. People do put some crazy stuff on their social media accounts but this seemed particularly bizarre.

In this case a friend of mine was boldly professing his love of the Manly Sea Eagles and claiming to be their number one fan. I am the only person I know that is brave enough to admit they support Manly. I contacted my friend - who had no idea what I was talking about. The penny dropped. His account had been compromised.

The chief of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, recently had his Twitter account hacked. Suddenly Jack was sending out bizarre and racist tweets that would rival Trump.

You would think the head of one of the largest and oldest social media sites would have some pretty good security but hackers were still able to take over his account.

A massive 22 per cent of people who use social media have had an account hacked. Fourteen per cent more than once.

It is impossible to make yourself hack proof but, just like installing an alarm means that burglars may chase an easier target, there are some steps that make it harder to compromise your account.

Firstly, you are only as strong as your password.

A password that is a word that exists in the dictionary is easy for a hacker to find with a dictionary attack. How do you make it harder? Use a combination of characters that do not make up words. A computer can still try all known permutations but it will slow it down a little.

To slow them down a lot, use more characters in your password and use a larger set of characters. Let me give you a few examples. If you use just numbers and you have only four characters, that equates to 10,000 permutations. That would take a computer the brief blink of an eye.

Now, instead of just all numbers, use the combined sample space of all numbers; letters (upper and lower case) and 'other characters' (#, $, % etc.) then instead of 10 characters you have 95 to choose from. A 4-character password from 95 jumps to 81.4 million variations. That is better but not a big challenge. The important part is length.

Go from four to eight characters in your password and the permutations now jumps to a number with a six followed by 15 zeroes. Two years to crack. Go from eight to 12 and you now so many permutations that the number starts with a five and is followed by 23 zeroes. Now we are at 171 million years to crack.

The first step, therefore, is to use a long password with characters taken from all the different possibilities. Then enable two-factor authentication. Ensure you have anti-virus software on your PC and use a password management program rather than have every site with the same password.

Remember it is not about being hack proof, just harder than the next person. Think of the joke about three friends on the African savannah who stumble across a lion and one of them fixes his shoes ready to start running.

When another friend comments that not even Usain Bolt could outrun a lion's top-speed of 80km/h, the first friend says that he doesn't need to outrun the lion, he only needs to outrun his two friends.

Lastly, if something doesn't look right or promises something too good to be true, be sceptical. Tell me a hacking experience you have witnessed at

  • Mathew Dickerson is the founder of regional tech and communications company Axxis Technology.