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Lie to Yourself for Better Security

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This week, TechCrunch made a big to-do by publishing internal Twitter business documents that they apparently received from an enterprising hacker. The access to multiple networks apparently began when the hacker accessed the GMail account of the wife of a co-founder.

If you, like Twitter employees, store any sensitive information in your Google Docs, or even have other people’s passwords hanging out in your GMail archive, then yes, it’s important to pick a unique password for different services, and make sure they’re all strong passwords. But that still leaves a hole in your security strategy: using the “forgot password?” feature in your Google Account.

1. Log into your Google Account settings (don’t worry, that link isn’t really for your account), and you’ll see an area for “Personal Settings”:

google personal settings

Click on “Change password recovery options”. This is the feature that lets you get your password back when you’ve forgotten it, or when someone who isn’t you wants to get at it.

2. Google will ask you to verify your password for added security.

3. On this screen, there’s an option for “Security Question”:

google security question

If someone that you don’t trust implicitly can guess the answer to the question you’ve chosen, you need to change this. Even if you’re not the spouse of the co-founder of the most popular and secretive company of the last few years. Sensitive personal data is retrieved through social engineering all the time, and if someone has access even just to your e-mail, you’re a prime candidate.

Better Than Your Old Phone Number

More people than I probably know about may have my old home phone number in an address book somewhere. I had that phone number for over 20 years. Anyone could have it. So, instead, I’m going to use the write my own question option:

google question

Here’s the novel part: come up with a fake answer. Even better: come up with an absurd answer to a reasonable question.

For example:

Question: What’s your husband’s mother’s name?

Answer: banana bread

This question/answer combination is memorable, provided that you love your mother-in-law’s banana bread. You know more than anybody about how your brain works, and how your brain will likely still be working in the future. Spend some time on it, and come up with something truly unique, but outwardly ridiculous at the same time.

For what it’s worth: no, I’m not a big fan of banana bread.

Published or updated July 17, 2009.

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About the author

Smithee formerly lived primarily on credit cards and the good will of his friends. He is a newbie to personal finance but quickly learning from his past mistakes. You can follow him on Twitter, where his user name is @SmitheeConsumer. View all articles by .

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