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Computerized Investing > Second Quarter 2013

Tips for Thwarting Hackers

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by Wayne A. Thorp, CFA

At the beginning of March, Evernote, the popular online note-taking service, reported that it had fallen victim to a hack that exposed customer usernames, email addresses associated with Evernote accounts and encrypted passwords.

The company was quick to point out that passwords stored by Evernote are protected by one-way encryption, making them difficult, but not impossible, to decipher, and that they found “no evidence” that user content was affected or that sensitive financial information was stolen. However, the company did take the extraordinary step of resetting the passwords of roughly 50 million user accounts.

Evernote isn’t alone: It joins a list of companies—including Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post—that have all been targets of hackers in recent months. Closer to home, in the last month a couple of my friends have had their AOL accounts hacked and one even had her identity stolen. However, the cover story of the December 2012 issue of Wired really opened my eyes to how easy it is for a hacker to get a hold of sensitive information, no matter how robust your passwords are. I strongly suggest going to Wired.com and reading Mat Honan’s account of being hacked last summer.

As computers become more connected, the idea that passwords can safeguard our sensitive online information is becoming a fallacy. Is that going to keep me from banking online or managing my investment portfolio online? Definitely not. However, there are some steps you can take to make it harder for a hacker. First, and foremost, don’t reuse your passwords—if a hacker figures out one password, he owns all of your accounts. Second, don’t use a short password. Longer passwords, made up of both upper- and lower-case letters as well as numbers and symbols are much stronger than shorter passwords that are made up of only lower-case letters. If your account asks security questions, Honan suggests using answers that don’t necessarily match the question being asked. Lastly, he suggests using a unique email address for password recoveries to make it harder for a hacker to know where your password resets go.

In this issue, I revisit one of AAII’s most successful stock screening methodologies: William O’Neil’s CAN SLIM approach. This screen, which focuses on rapidly growing companies with strong price momentum, has been a stellar performer for the last 15-plus years. One of its drawbacks, however, has been a lack of companies passing the screen over the last few years. The feature article that begins here outlines a change in the screen that better reflects O’Neil’s philosophy and offers a broader collection of passing stocks. Be sure to read the article to see the impact this change had on the screen’s overall performance.

Also, Joe Lan’s comparison, which begins here, examines the cost and service structure of the most popular online discount brokers among AAII members. By focusing on these “Big Five” brokers, we are able to provide a more thoughtful analysis of the services they provide instead of overwhelming you with tables of data.


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