Tips for creating and protecting your passwords to better secure your online accounts.

Is Your Password Up to Par?

Golf might be a fun summer activity, but if it’s common knowledge you love golf you probably shouldn’t use it as part of your password. Why? It’s easy for cyber criminals to find out about your favorite past times, cuddly pets, and family names through simple online searches.

As more accounts continue to become available online, you need to be diligent in protecting your personal data. Your passwords have substantial value to cybercriminals. Don’t make their attempt to access your information easy. You may not be able to control a data breach, but you can take simple steps in making your passwords strong.

Each year, various websites publish the results of the internet’s most vulnerable passwords. Some of the most commonly used still include “123456”, “qwerty” and “password”. Those may seem like obvious no-no’s, but “Blink182” and “superman” also topped the password list as the most popular music artist and fictional character, respectively.

When you use weak passwords, you make it easier for cyber criminals to crack. Once they discover your password they will then attempt to log in to other online services and networks using the same credentials.

Here are some tips to help you create strong, unique passwords and protect yourself online:

  • Don’t Use Personal Information: As we mentioned earlier, names of family or pets, address, city of birth, phone number, birthdays, high school, etc. can be publicly available information easily accessible to hackers. Additional Tip: If you’re asked to choose security questions for your online accounts, try to select questions and answers that wouldn’t be obvious to someone browsing your social media accounts.
  • Avoid Password Re-Use: It’s a major risk that can be avoided easily. Once you’ve used a password, don’t repeat the exact same password for other accounts.
  • Get Creative: Help protect yourself by using hard-to-guess passwords that are complex (even when a site doesn’t require it).
  • Ditch the Dictionary: Passwords containing common words can be discovered with password cracking software.
  • Use Special Characters: Often when setting passwords they will now ask you to include not only a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters and numbers, you’ll also be asked to include characters such as “&, $, !, (, ), -, _”. These characters increase the complexity of your password and make it harder to crack.
  • The Longer the Better: An online account may only require a password that is six characters long, but the longer the password, the more difficult it will be figure out. Passwords in the 12-15 character range will make it more complicated.
  • Use a Password Manager: The more complex the passwords get, the more likely you won’t be able to remember them without writing them down (something you want to avoid). Password managers store all of your passwords in an encrypted location, which you can access with a master password (don’t forget that one…). Password managers not only securely house your passwords, they also come with the ability to generate complex passwords for your accounts. An example of an auto-generated password may look something like this: Mv3}k+[wJfrWC\fRxih6. Your browser will ask you if you want to store your password. Don’t! It may be convenient, but lacks security.
  • Protect Yourself on Public Wi-Fi: This has more to do with access than the complexity of your password. You should never enter your password on another person’s computer, as it could be stored without you knowing it. If you’re using your device on a public Wi-Fi network, avoid visiting websites that you will have to log in on. Public Wi-Fi is typically unsecured, and your data could be intercepted. If you use public Wi-Fi only do so through a virtual private network (VPN).

Passwords are only one piece of the online protection puzzle, but taking these steps when crafting your account logins will help keep hackers out and protect your identity online.