Personal Finance: Ask the Experts

Get advice on money matters from The Bee's Claudia Buck and a panel of local experts

October 4, 2012
Staying safe online: readers share their tips

In a recent column on how to avoid getting hacked online, we talked with several cyber-security experts.

Since then, we've also heard from readers, who shared their own tips. Here are a few:

One of the column's recommendations was to use strong online passwords, at least 8 characters long, with a mix of letters and numerals. But a New Mexico reader, Chuck Denk, suggested that might not be enough. He suggests that passwords should be longer: 12 characters. According to a Georgia Tech Research Institute study, sophisticated software is making it easier for hackers to break into your accounts by rapidly trying various 8-character combinations.

Denk also recommends Last, a free password manager for Windows, Mac, Linux, iPhone, Blackberry, Android

Another reader, Robert Ilgen of Concord, noted the column's advice from a McAfee security expert: "Don't click links in the body of an email. Ever."

"Good advice," said Ilgen, "but that takes the fun out of seeing what your friends send you. Would it make sense to Google the sites that our friends send so that we can see if the sites are safe?"

In reply, McAfee expert Siciliano repeated: "The only links that are relatively safe to click in an email are the ones that you are immediately expecting from someone you are in direct communication with."

In other words, if a work colleague, friend or family member says they're emailing you something immediately, it's presumably OK to click on the links. But beware of anything else: "It could be infected with a downloadable virus that could compromise your (computer or phone)," said Siciliano.

In most cases, he said, "as long as your device has the latest antivirus, antiphishing, antispyware and a firewall set up, it will most likely recognize a bad link when clicked."

To check out a website to be sure it's safe, Ilgen says he uses Norton's "Safe Web", a free service from Norton, the online security products company. It's similar to McAfee's "Site Advisor."

In both cases, before going to a website that might be infected, you can check it out by typing in the name. You'll get a Green (safe), Yellow (questionable) or Red (dangerous) icon, indicating whether the site is OK to visit.

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Meet Our Financial Experts

Claudia Buck

Claudia Buck is The Sacramento Bee's personal finance columnist. Read all her columns here. Contact her at

Terri Carpenter

Terri Carpenter offers advice on job hunting, retraining and career counseling. Carpenter works at Sacramento Works Inc., the career and job training arm of the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency (SETA). With 15 years in the field, she has hands-on experience with everyone from first-time job seekers to career professionals seeking advice after a layoff or looking for a mid-career change. Ask her a question.

Carlena Tapella

Carlena Tapella is a partner in the law firm of Webb & Tapella Law Corp. in Sacramento. The firm specializes in estate planning and probate, such as estates, trusts, conservatorships and litigation. She is a past president of the Sacramento County Bar Association's Estate Planning & Probate Section. Ask her a question.

Kimberly Foss

Kimberly Foss, certified financial planner, is the founder of Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville. With nearly 30 years in the financial industry, her clients include women in transition, small business owners, retirees and "pre-retirees." Ask her a question.

Jesse Weller

Gregory Burke, a CPA and tax expert with John Waddell & Co. in Sacramento since 1984, worked as an IRS tax auditor for six years. He’s a past chairman of the California Society of CPAs. Ask him a question.

Daniel Tahara

Daniel Tahara takes your questions about California taxes. Tahara, a spokesman for the state Franchise Tax Board, has 10 years of experience as a tax auditor. Ask him a question.

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