When you sign up for an account online, you are often asked some “security” questions, which would be used to help you gain access to your account should you ever get locked out.
Examples of security questions include:
- What was your high school mascot?
- Who was your childhood best friend?
- Which street did you grow up on?
- What high school did you attend?
- What is the name of your first pet?
- Who was your childhood hero?
- What was the first car you owned?
- Who was your favorite teacher?
You can easily see where this is going. If a person who is trying to hack your account finds out enough about you to answer these security questions, they can use this information to gain access to your account, rendering the so-called “security questions” completely useless.
Giving It Away Online
In this day and age, many of us post so much of ourselves online. Social media accounts, blogs, etc. all give a potential hacker a better chance of finding the answers they need to your security questions.
If a person finds out enough about you online, they can use it to their advantage in a number of ways. They could access your email or any other accounts you have by using the answers to your security questions as a gateway. Some common ways of giving away too much information online are:
Quizzes and Fun Posts
If you come across a “quick quiz” or a post on social media that has you sharing your personal details, don’t fill it out. It could give other people the ability to figure out your personal information. And by “personal information” I don’t just mean your name, address, phone number, and credit card number.
For example, I saw a post on Facebook the other day that asked “How far do you live from where you were born?”.
Some people replied in minutes (30 minutes away), some replied in miles (250 miles away) and some just came right out and said something along the lines of “I live in Cali, but I was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa. Go Cyclones!”. Even if they don’t mention the exact city where they were born, a hacker could possibly figure it out using their answer and a map.
Remember, it is much more important to secure your account than to take a quick quiz that is meant for fun.
On the other hand, you can check many people’s profiles and see where they live now and where they are from. And that information can answer several of the security questions.
Social Media Profiles
Speaking of social media profiles, does your profile list the high school you went to?
If so, it’s probably not a good idea to answer the “What was your high school mascot?” or “What high school did you attend?” or other school-related questions.
Does your profile state the name of your hometown? If so, it’s probably not a good idea to answer questions such as “Where did you grow up?” or “What street did you grow up on?”.
There’s quite a bit of information that can be gleaned from social media profiles, so keep that in mind when filling them out.
Social Media Groups
Many people belong to groups about their high school, or groups about the city they were born in. If you’re active in any of those groups, this is another way someone can gain information about you.
They say a photo is worth 1000 words, and that may very well be true.
If someone can find pictures of you online, they could then be able to answer your security questions based on what they see in those pictures.
For example, if there is a picture of you with your high school letter jacket (or any other sports uniform), the answer to “What was your high school” can be determined.
If there is a photo of you at your high school graduation or staring up at your high school mascot, that’s going to allow other people to find out exactly which high school you went to, even if it’s not listed on your profile.
Some people like to post their class pictures from elementary school and lengthy discussions can then take place among the classmates, with all kinds of information being revealed. “Remember how Jimmy and Rick were inseparable in first grade?” or “Mrs. Jones! I loved her! She was the best teacher ever!”
You might have personal photos from childhood where you are proud of your cat because she just caught a mouse, or proud of your dog because he is being funny. And you might name that dog or cat, giving a hacker another valuable piece of information.
Perhaps there’s a photo of you posing proudly with your first car? Another bit of information that can lead to hackers gaining access to your accounts.
It is so important to know how much information you are giving away online. But what if you don’t want to have to be “looking over your shoulder” every moment you spend on social meda?
Make Your Security Questions Secure
If you really want to take part in the fun – quizzes and groups and photos online, without having to be overly vigilant – make up answers for your “security questions”. That right, lie. Your favorite color is blue? Say it’s orange. Your first pet’s name was Tiger? Say it was Spot. And don’t use the same lie on more than one account. If a hacker gains access to one of your accounts, they could use those false answers on another account.
And just in case you forget, jot down your answers somewhere so that if they are ever needed, you will know what they are. And then keep those answers private.
Other Ways to Secure Your Accounts
There are some things you can do , however, to make it much more difficult for hackers to gain access to your accounts.
Set up two-factor authentication. That is when you have to enter both your password and a code that is sent directly to your phone or email account. This way, even if someone learns your password, they still can’t gain access unless they have your cell phone or email.
Don’t Repeat Passwords
Don’t use the same passwords for everything. If you are using one password for all of your accounts, a single hack could mean access to multiple accounts instead of just having to hack each account separately.
Use Complex Passwords
You should also make sure your passwords are both unique and complex, containing a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols. Don’t use simple words! You can save yourself from having to remember dozens of different complicated passwords if you use a password manager like Lastpass or Roboform.
Check Your Privacy Settings
If you post photos on social media, check the privacy settings. Most sites allow you to limit who can see your photos.
Remember, you can never be too careful. The more information that the hackers have to go by, the easier it will be for them to access your account. Even though these security questions sound like fun (and they can be really fun), use common sense to protect yourself online.