Passwords - Keys to the Kingdom

Passwords to the online world are required almost everywhere, especially when personal information is captured or transactions can occur. And the stronger the password, the better protected you are. Yes, keeping up with the number of passwords and meeting password requirements can feel overwhelming, but when you consider a cyber-thief’s strategy in trying to “guess” your password, then you may gain better respect for, and understanding about, password protection, despite all those annoying little requirements.

The reality is many of us choose passwords that are easily remembered, rather than ones that are designed to protect you from hackers. Professional cyber-thieves could easily guess your password if it includes any variation of the following:

  • “Password”
  • Your name
  • Your address
  • “123456”
  • “Abcdefg”

And consider the fact that sophisticated hackers also have programs to generate passwords that can be emailed to thousands of people in a phishing attempt. For example, with just a four digit number, there are only 9,999 combinations and a cyber-thief could probably generate those in seconds. In fact, password-cracking programs may try thousands upon millions of password combinations in seconds. AND hackers are more educated about how we use our passwords, making them more likely to succeed in “guessing” passwords based on common patterns followed by the masses.

The good news is you can be proactive in making your passwords difficult to hack. The following tips are good practices to follow when selecting passwords.

  • Make your password at least six characters long, preferably eight.
  • Some entities suggest you use at least 10 characters; 12 being ideal for most home users. There is strength in numbers!
  • Avoid creating predictable passwords by making them unpredictable. The more unique, the better!
  • Mix letters, numbers, and special characters (such as #, $, &, !, ?, >, etc.). And mix them well!
  • Don’t use personal information as part of your password. It’s not as personal as you think!
  • Don’t base your password on common words in a dictionary. This makes a hackers’ job easier since you’ve practically provided a list of passwords to choose from – and with the password generators hackers use, the odds are not in your favor!
  • Finally, use a unique password for each site. This one tip will illicit many groans, but it can mean the difference between one compromised account and 20. If someone gets ahold of just one password, and you reuse that same password for everything, then a cyber-criminal potentially has access to every site you visit. Protect yourself!

Now, re-read the above tips. Once you’re finished, we’ll take a look at a couple of examples of passwords you can create. Ready?

Create a memorable sentence that means something to you, and have some fun with it. Take the first letter of each word, throw in a few special characters to replace a word or letter, capitalize the main words or subjects, and tah-dah! You have a unique, memorable, long, and non-common word password! For example:

“My children John and Mary are 12 and 16 years old.”

- becomes -

“McJ&Ma12&16yo”

You may think this goes against the rule of using personal information as part of your password, but now that memorable personal information has become a random password that means something to you. Or take a favorite saying, or line from a favorite song, and create another unique string of characters. Get the idea? Good. Now here’s the down side. You have to still create a unique password for each site. Yeah. That’s still important.

In the wake of the many data breaches that have occurred recently, it’s unwise to think hacking into your accounts will never happen to you. Help yourself keep safe by following the above tips. And if you have to write down your passwords to remember them, keep them in a secure location. And if that secure location is a password-protected file, make the password unique and be sure you don’t forget that one!

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