Be extra careful with your passwords

The theft of more than 1.2 billion e-mail account passwords by a Russian gang should be raising fright among regular Internet users.

The gang has been smart, using the data, apparently, only to supply lists to spam e-mailers so far, according to some experts. But the day will come when the alarms that should be going off in most of our minds regarding personal data security will be justified. Accounts can be drained, items bought, and lifetime finances ruined by thieves.

It happens, usually on a smaller scale now, but the wakeup call has been given. Major retailers and commercial sites, including Target and restaurant chain P.F. Chang’s, are among the more public admissions of personal data theft in the United States, and it would be foolish to think those companies are the only ones with issues.

A Steubenville native, Mark Priganc, is a data security expert who says data thieves can destroy a person with stellar credit, a good job and good health insurance without ever touching a dime of the person’s money. Datasets are valuable for everything from direct theft to using identity to commit other crimes, destroying a person’s reputation.

So it is that the most basic step anyone can take should be implemented: A good password, one that is unrelated to pet names, family names, addresses or employers. And, if a site accepts them, the password should include capital letters and special characters. It should be as random as possible but still memorable to the user.

Experts say other elements to be avoided in making a good password include addresses, birthdates and ZIP codes.

It also should not be repeated from web site to web site, nor should it be written down in a place easily accessible by others.

Sure, it’s a cumbersome process and even the best memory out there is apt to forget a particularly complex password every now and then, especially on sites that are only used periodically.

But the inconvenience is worth one’s treasure, talent and stellar reputation.