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Tech Tips: Guide to protecting Internet accounts

  • In this Thursday, Jan. 10, 2002, file photo, a computer screen shows a password attack in progress at the Norwich University computer security training program in Northfield, Vt. Security experts said Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, that passwords for more than 2 million Facebook, Google and other accounts have been compromised and circulated online, just the latest example of breaches affecting leading Internet services. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

NEW YORK — Security experts say passwords for more than 2 million Facebook, Google and other accounts have been compromised and circulated online, just the latest example of breaches involving leading Internet companies.

Some services including Twitter have responded by disabling the affected passwords. But there are several things you can do to minimize further threats —even if your account isn't among the 2 million that were compromised.

Here are some tips to help you secure your online accounts:

— ONE THING LEADS TO ANOTHER:

When a malicious hacker gets a password to one account, it's often a stepping stone to a more serious breach, especially because many people use the same passwords on multiple accounts. So if someone breaks into your Facebook account, that person might try the same password on your banking or Amazon account. Suddenly, it's not just about fake messages being posted to your social media accounts. It's about your hard-earned money.

It's particularly bad if the compromised password is for an email account. That's because when you click on a link on a site saying you've forgotten your password, the service will typically send a reset message by email. People who are able to break into your email account, therefore, can use it to create their own passwords for all sorts of accounts. You'll be locked out as they shop and spend, courtesy of you.

If the compromised password is one you use for work, someone can use it to break in to your employer's network, where there are files with trade secrets or customers' credit card numbers.

— BETTER PASSWORDS:

Many breaches occur because passwords are too easy to guess. There's no evidence that guessing was how these 2 million accounts got compromised, but it's still a good reminder to strengthen your passwords. Researchers at security company Trustwave analyzed the passwords compromised and found that only 5 percent were excellent and 17 percent were good. The rest were moderate or worse.

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