With the uptick in cybercrime in recent years, it is critical that we don’t lose sight of the simplest precaution we must take to protect ourselves – using strong passwords. We might think it’ll never happen to us, but the latest security breach at LinkedIn is a reminder that a strong password is our last line of defense when it comes to protecting our personal information from hackers.
A strong password is one that’s difficult to guess by humans and computers, is at least 6 characters, preferably more, and is a combination of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols.
Experts also recommend that you:
- Don’t use common passwords that are easy to crack like “12345”, “abc123” and “password.”
- Use the full keyboard including letters, numbers and special characters in seemingly random sequence, not in the order they appear on the keyboard, like “1q2w3e”.
- Don’t use any words from the dictionary. Also avoid proper nouns or foreign words.
- Don’t use anything remotely related to your name, nickname, family members or pets.
- Don’t use any numbers someone could guess by looking at your mail like phone numbers and street numbers.
- Don’t reuse your last 15 passwords, and change them every 90 days.
Right, you say. I’m lucky I remember which password goes with which account! (You aren’t using the same password for all of your accounts, are you?) Luckily, there are ways to make remembering strong passwords easy:
- Use phonetic spellings of words and substitute some letters for numbers or characters that resemble them. For example, replace “t” with “+,” “s” with “$”, and “p” with “9”.
- Choose a phrase that means something to you, take the first letters of each word and convert some into numbers and characters.
- Use an adaptable base password: a base password combined with additional characters depending on the context. For example, take the first letters of each word of your favorite quote and add every consonant in a brief description of what the password is used for, like “2bon2bbnkccnt.”
These strategies can be combined to make for some pretty strong passwords that are difficult to crack, even for a computer program.
If you really want to get serious about strong passwords you can use Diceware. Basically, Diceware is a method for choosing passphrases that uses the results of five dice rolls per word in your passphrase. The resulting numbers are matched to random words in the Diceware Word List. You then combine the random words to make your passphrase. The site recommends choosing between five and seven words for your passphrase.
Keeping track of all of your different passwords can be a challenge as well. SPAMfighter’s new tool, PASSWORDfighter automatically logs you in to your password protected accounts, eliminating the need for sticky notes. [Editor - PASSWORDfighter also has a strong password generator that creates random passwords based off similar criteria as written above.]
If the latest high profile security breaches have you thinking you need to come up with better passwords before your accounts get hacked, use these guidelines to get started today. While it may seem like overkill, you’ll be thanking your lucky stars the day your favorite social network – or worse, your credit card company – gets hacked.
By Megan Berry
About the author: A senior editor for IT Manager Daily, Megan covers the latest IT and business technology trends and delivers actionable insights for IT pros.
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