If there’s a first line of defense when it comes to protecting yourself online, it’s your passwords. Cyber security experts are quick to point out that strong passwords are a must – no ifs, ands or buts.
Think about it. If you routinely bank online and a cyber crook can figure out the password to your checking account, it’s like giving him the keys to a carload of cash. And if you use the same password elsewhere, such as credit card or PayPal accounts, you’re setting yourself up for major thievery. Once that password “leaks” out, it can create an avalanche of headaches.
Does this scenario sound familiar? Of course it does. Trying to keep track of different passwords for different accounts is mentally exhausting, right? But while you’re making it easy on yourself, you’re also making it easy for criminals to pick you apart financially.
So obviously the first bit of advice any self-respecting cyber security professional will give you is don’t use the same password elsewhere. Another tip is to change your passwords periodically, as in at least every couple of months.
Here are some more suggestions to ward off online crooks looking for easy prey:
- Never share your password(s) with anyone. Guard them like you would gold at Fort Knox. In many ways, they’re just as valuable.
- Use special characters or symbols, like # and @, when creating a password.
- Avoid obvious word combinations, such as “darkhorse” or “frontrunner,” or number combinations like “123456.”
- Some of the strongest passwords are a combination of upper case and lower case letters, mixed in with numbers and symbols.
- Avoid short passwords. At the minimum, a password should be at least 8-12 characters long. The longer the password, the better, because long ones are harder to crack.
- Don’t use birth dates for passwords. And especially don’t use your Social Security number!
- Don’t write your password down on a piece of paper and then stick it in your wallet or purse. If either get stolen, so does your password.
- There are software programs called “password managers” that are available. They store your login information for all the websites you use and help you access those sites automatically. They encrypt your password database with a master password, which is then the only password you have to remember. Some password managers are free; others charge a fee. Do an online search to see what’s out there and what fits your needs.
- Try to avoid dictionary words. Instead, make up words and string them together. A good approach is to think like a child again! Or put together a series of random words, like some of your favorite foods interspersed with numbers and symbols.
- Connect the first letters of a sentence or phrase, such as a line from your favorite movie or book. Then throw in a few symbols and numbers.
- Remove the vowels from a phrase and create one word. For instance, “my country tis of thee” becomes “mycntrytsfth”. It looks like gibberish, but that’s the point!
- Double a strong password (see suggestions above) but remove the space. That makes the password even stronger because it’s longer.
Now that you’re armed with some new ideas, do away with those old passwords and create a fresh new batch and let them go to work for you!