Image via Flickr user Marjan Krebelj
Lately we’ve been inundated with headlines of identity theft, hacked financial institutions, and general digital insecurity. It’s enough to ask why software developers can’t create the perfect code; code without vulnerabilities or room for error; code that is unhackable.
According to a recent story published by CNN Money, it already exists—at least in theory. Security professionals already use encryption that replaces each character of plain text with one or more characters from a secret random key. The resulting code is called ciphertext and if it’s as large as, or larger than, the plain text, if it is truly random, and if no part is reused, it would, in theory, take a supercomputer 150 years to crack it.
So if a code couldn’t be cracked within our lifetime, that sounds like ironclad protection, right? Unfortunately, wrong. According to security experts, there is a big difference between code that can’t be hacked, and code that just hasn’t been hacked yet.
Cybercriminals are smarter and more sophisticated than they were even five years ago and the tactics they employ are harder to defend. To stay ahead, security firms have to implement techniques they previously considered part of their future long-term strategy and they must prepare for the future.
Mathematicians estimate that in the next 10 years, we could see the implementation of quantum mechanics as applied to decryption. If successful, hackers could employ these theories to speed up a supercomputer’s analytics so that it would solve in seconds encryptions that are currently considered “uncrackable.”
Even within the limitations of the present security landscape, experts contend that the weakest link isn’t the code, it’s us. If we have a simple password or insist on using the same login information for every account we’ve ever opened, even the most sophisticated security software won’t protect us from the modern-day hacker.
So what do we do? We use different passwords for each account and we change them regularly. It sounds cumbersome and problematic, especially if you have numerous accounts and a bad memory, but it’s a necessity in the new cyber reality. If you have trouble coming up with unique passwords that you can remember, there are programs that do it for you.
PC Tools has a Password Generator that will create secure and diverse logins for each site you access. The Secure Password Generator is free and provides one-off unique passwords, utilizing a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and punctuation symbols. Once you have generated a password, you must save a copy in a safe place because it cannot be recreated.
Bottom line, security firms and software developers alike are doing their best to protect our information. They are improving technology and anticipating future attacks, but they can only do so much and the rest is up to us. Help the process along. Use unique and complex passwords, and change them frequently, and it won’t matter what hackers get a supercomputer to do.