How many passwords do you have? These days, it seems a username and password or PIN are needed just about everywhere online.
Dealing with passwords can seem to be a real hassle. But if hackers or scammers “get” or “guess” your passwords, your personal information, such as your financial information, health data or private documents will be at risk. Identity thieves could exploit access to your personal information to open credit card accounts in your name, apply for a mortgage, or pose as you in online transactions.
It’s easy to forget passwords, so people often use simple words, like a pet’s name or dates that are easy to remember like a wedding anniversary. A hacker could try your name, children’s names, birthdates and pets’ names as passwords to get access to your computer. When they get lucky, your ID, privacy and financial security are all up for grabs.
Step No. 1: Create strong passwords
To create a secure password that is easy to remember, follow these steps:
Do not use personal information It’s strongly recommended that you don’t include any words related to your name or names of family members or pets in your passwords. Also, don’t include easily recognizable numbers like your address, phone number or birthday.
Do not use real words Password cracking tools are very effective at helping attackers guess your password. These programs can process every word in the dictionary, plus letter and number combinations until a match is found. Steer clear of using “real” words from the dictionary or proper nouns or names.
Use mixed characters By combining uppercase letters with lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters such as “&” or “$” you increase the complexity of your password and decrease the chances of someone hacking into your system.
Create longer passwords It is generally recommended that passwords be at least eight characters in length. Probability dictates that longer passwords are harder to crack.
Modify easy-to-remember phrases One tip is to think up a pass-phrase, like a line from a song, and then use the first letter from each word, substituting numbers for some of the letters. For example: “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” could become “10oBb0tW”.
Step No. 2: Store passwords safely
Keeping a list of passwords on your computer is like keeping the keys to your house on your front porch. But how will you ever remember all your various passwords and phrases?
Don’t write them down Resist the temptation to hide passwords under your keyboard or post them on your monitor. Stories about hackers getting passwords by dumpster-diving and “shoulder-surfing” are absolutely real.
Use a password management tool One way to store and remember passwords securely is to use a tool that stores your list of user names and passwords in encrypted form. Some of these tools will even help by automatically filling in the information for you on certain web sites.
Step No. 3: Manage and update passwords
Once you know how to create strong passwords, here are several tips for how to use them effectively to increase your level of security.
Change passwords on a regular basis Online financial accounts should be changed every month or two, while you may choose to change your computer logon password every quarter.
Use different passwords on different accounts Don’t use the same password on more than one account. If a hacker discovers it, then all of the information protected by that password could also be compromised.
Do not type passwords on computers you do not control When using your laptop in a Wi-Fi Hot Spot or a computer at an Internet café, you want to avoid any actions that require a user name and password (like doing banking or online shopping) because your data could be intercepted over the wireless network or with keystroke logging devices.
Passwords are just one piece of the protection puzzle. To create a safer environment online, you will also want to use a firewall and other security products that help