Iowa Consumers, Small Business Owners Learn Online Security Tips

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AMES, Iowa - Identity theft is a concern among web-surfers that's been around since the birth of the Internet. With a recent string of high-profile data breaches in the United States, however, consumers and business owners are on edge more than ever.

That's why Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, and Iowa State University President Steven Leath all spoke at a cyber security conference in Ames Thursday. The event, hosted by the National Cyber Security Alliance, featured a panel of speakers and offered local consumers and small business-owners tips on how to strengthen their valuable online information.

"It can involve a lot of money, most of which you get back. But a lot of hassle in terms of identity theft and you have to deal with that," said Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller. "And so it's something people should be concerned about and do some prevention on."

A major suggestion was for businesses to implement the "two-step verification" method on their websites. Two-step verification is just that - two steps; for step one, the user enters a password, and for step two, a confirmation request is sent to the user's smartphone via text or email. That way, speakers say, the verification process can ensure that it's actually the user who is trying to access their own information.

The National Cyber Security Alliance showed the audience the top three passwords of 2014: "1234", "password", and "123456" were the winners. A suggestion to strengthen passwords was to think of a phrase, such as "My favorite ice cream is vanilla with sprinkles," and use the first letter of each word in that phrase as a password. From that example, the user's password would then be "mficivws."

Another speaker at the event, Senator Chuck Grassley, says the U.S. government has a keen interest in stopping hackers - but they can't do it without business owners' help.

"(The event is) an opportunity to alert consumers and small businesses of the problem," he said. "So, it isn't going to be entirely solved by government. It's going to take government-private sector cooperation to get an answer to this."

Whether hackers want your nude photos, or thousands of your customers' credit cards, speakers at the conference Thursday warned a simple password isn't enough in today's internet era.