Zombies are a pervasive cultural theme these days. We have no shortage of zombie-apocalypse movies and literature, and the United States military and the Center for Disease Control even offer tongue-in-cheek zombie-response plans. But there are other zombies that don't get the attention they deserve--the zombie accounts you have lingering around the Internet.
Stop and consider how many different websites, social networks, and other online services you've joined over the years. For that matter, think of all of the software, mobile apps, browser plug-ins, and other things you've installed on your PC or mobile devices.
How many of them do you use on a regular basis? And how many of them still link to your Facebook or Twitter profiles? More important, how many of them do you actively manage and update to ensure that they're properly protected?
Here are the dangers to watch for, plus a few tips for dealing with the user accounts that just won't die.
The undead: A major headache for the living
I haven't used MySpace.com in ages; it has probably been at least five years since I've even logged in to the once-dominant social network. But as it turns out, I still have an active account there. I needed a couple tries to recall (or guess, really) my login email and password, but I got in.
Once I logged in, I found information about where I lived and worked, and a few invitations to play online games from early 2009, as well as connections to friends and their personal information. I can all but guarantee that none of those friends has thought about MySpace in years, either.
Many people use only simple, easily remembered passwords across sites and services that don't have access to sensitive data. Secure password practices suggest that you should use unique, complex passwords for all sites, but many people do so only for banks, credit cards, and maybe social networking accounts.
Using the same password on multiple sites is a bad idea, though. Even online platforms that don't have access to financial information or Social Security numbers can still reveal seemingly innocuous details, providing hackers with clues for breaking into your other accounts. My MySpace profile, for instance, contains personal details such as the name of my high school and my zodiac sign--providing hints about things that sites commonly use as authentication questions.
Wolfgang Kandek, CTO of security firm Qualys, learned the hard way that reusing passwords can backfire. Kandek says, "I used to use a common 'beater' password for these types of sites, but it recently came back to haunt me when my password at Stratfor leaked and in the subsequent inventory I found that I had used it for many sites that I have come to consider important."
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