Don’t be a victim: 10 Tips to protect your password

Passwords are the gatekeepers of your digital identity, allowing you to transact, interact, work, and conduct other vital activities.

Passwords are also, however, a gateway for cybercriminals to access your sensitive personal information. To raise awareness of these dangers, and promote better password habits, Thursday 2 May has been declared World Password Day.

Sarah Nicholson, operations manager of JustMoney.co.za, a platform that helps South Africans make good money choices, provides examples of what can go wrong if passwords are compromised, and outlines some effective measures for protecting yourself.


What can go wrong?

Financial accounts: Criminals can make unauthorised transactions, transfer funds, or steal sensitive financial information from bank, investment, or credit card accounts.

Email accounts: Personal and professional correspondence may reveal sensitive details. Further, since password reset links are often sent via email, criminals could obtain passwords for other accounts, too.

Social media accounts: You could be left vulnerable to impersonation, the posting of malicious content on your accounts, and identity theft.Online shopping accounts: Fraudulent purchases can be made using your stored payment information.

Work accounts: Criminals may gain access to sensitive company information, and compromise the organisation’s systems.

Cloud storage: Access to cloud storage accounts such as Google Drive or Dropbox could expose personal documents, photos, and other stored files.

Sobering statistics

South Africa experienced an alarming 36% surge in reported incidents of online banking fraud in 2022, according to the South African Banking Risk Information Centre’s 2022 SABRIC Annual Crime Statistics report. Financial losses per online banking fraud incident soared, with a 9% increase in 2022 from the previous year.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) estimates the impact of cybercrime on the South African economy to be R2.2bn a year. In an information session hosted in April 2023, Billy Petzer, research group leader: cybersecurity systems, described the country as the eighth most targeted in the world for ransomware, with more than half of South African firms affected the previous year.

South Africa has a high adoption of digital technologies and devices such as smartphones, boosted by the country’s large youth population, according to Petzer. However, the general population is not tech-savvy, and lacks the training and awareness needed to interact with devices safely and securely.



How to defend yourself against digital intruders

“Your digital security is only as strong as your weakest password,” warns Nicholson. “It’s essential to implement proactive measures and remain vigilant.”

Here are some tips from JustMoney to prevent you becoming a cybercrime statistic:

Create complex passwords that are long, unique, and comprise a mix of letters (upper and lower case), numbers, and special characters. Avoid birthdates or pets’ names.

Don’t reuse passwords, but rather generate a password for each account.

Enable two-factor authentication (2FA), which typically involves receiving a code on your phone or email, which you enter alongside your password.

Update passwords regularly, and diarise reminders.

Beware of phishing attempts. Don’t click on links or provide login credentials, especially in response to unsolicited emails or messages.

Use reputable password managers that generate, and securely store, strong passwords. These tools enhance security and streamline the login process.

Educate yourself on best practices in password and online security.

Read a JustMoney article on how to keep your banking details safe online.

Monitor account activity. Many platforms have features to review recent logins and devices accessing your account.

Use encryption tools to make information unreadable to unauthorised people and protect your sensitive data.

Report suspicious activity at once to the relevant authorities or platform administrators if you suspect unauthorised access.

The Southern African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS) is a non-profit organisation that fights fraud and financial crime. Its services include protective registration for anyone who has experienced identity fraud, ID/passport theft, or had their identity compromised, to protect them against further losses. Call the SAFPS helpline on 011 867 2234, or email safps@safps.org.za.

A credit report shows your credit history from several sources, including banks and credit card companies. Checking your credit report won’t directly confirm that passwords have been stolen, but can provide insights into potential identity theft or unauthorised access to your accounts.

Get your free credit report and view your credit score.

"Keep in mind that passwords are the keys to your digital life. Treat them with the same amount of care as your most valuable physical belongings,” cautions Nicholson.

“Follow best practices so you can significantly reduce the risk of unauthorised access to your accounts,” she advises.

JustMoney.co.za is a trusted voice within the personal finance sector. The JustMoney platform offers articles, money management tools, and a wide range of financial products and services. More than 450,000 South Africans subscribe to the free credit score platform to stay informed and become financially savvy. Subscribe here. financially savvy. Subscribe here.

Sources:

2022 SABRIC Annual Crime Statistics

Cybercrime’s annual impact on SA estimated at R22-billion