If you got a fancy new security door to protect your home and loved ones, you wouldn’t just make extra copies of the key and leave them lying around outside begging people tocome on in. But that is what many people do when they leave their online accounts open to hackers with simplistic, easy-to-guess internet passwords. Think about all of the different places that we enter passwords each day: e-mail accounts (with most of us having at least two these days if not more), bank accounts, loan and mortgage websites, shopping websites like Amazon, and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. But how do you pick an appropriate password that is easy to remember as well as being secure. Here are some tips for how to achieve more cyber security:
- The “Big Don’t” List. This should go without saying, but do not, under any circumstances, choose something simple and personal like your birthday, anniversary, spouse’s name, children’s names, or even your pet’s name. Cyber criminals with a modicum of background information on you will start with these first and then move on to random password generators to find out your secret.
- Choose multiple good, complex passwords. Most websites will allow you to enter almost anything as your password. Others will require standards such as a minimum of eight characters, a mixture of uppercase and lowercase letters, and a special character. So choose several complex passwords for your accounts. Do not choose just one password so that thieves won’t have access to all of your information and personal sites if they figure out that one password.
- Mix up the words. If you choose “olympics” as your password, mix it up reversing some of the syllables. Make it “picsolym” or some other combination. Also, consider replacing certain characters with numbers or characters: “pics01ym” or “pics0!ym” would be much safer.
- Change your password regularly. Set a reminder on your smartphone calendar or write it in on your wall calendar. But every three months, go through and change your passwords to something new. This keeps criminals from being able to pigeonhole your passwords if you are changing them up constantly.
- Use personalized reset questions. If your security question to reset your password is “Mother’s maiden name?” or something that a cyber-criminal could easily discover with a little background research, consider picking something more personal or, if possible, give a wrong answer that you will be able to remember in place of the real one.
- Keep track of your passwords. If you have to have a different password for each account, how do you keep track of them all? One method is to vary the password just slightly. If your password is “pics01ym” then make each new password a variation such as “pics01ym1” or “2pics01ym.” This will still be fairly random to keep the crooks guessing. Another idea is to use a password manager, a piece of software which is itself password protected and can keep track of all of your other passwords. This can be tricky, however, if someone hacks that account as you now have handed the criminals all of your passwords. Others prefer the old pen and paper method, writing each password down in a password journal. This is also fine as long as you keep the journal secure and don’t leave it lying around where anyone can find it. Finally, you might want to save a text file to your smart phone or tablet with your passwords on that. This keeps the passwords from being saved directly on your computer in case of theft or hacking.
Whatever method you use for choosing a password and then managing them, it is now just as important to keep your passwords safe as it is to protect your keys and your social security card. Make them tricky and keep up with them so that you don’t become a victim in the cyber-crime epidemic.