Imagine having the same key to unlock all the doors in your house, your office, and your car. Now imagine leaving that key in a very conspicuous place where anyone could find it, such as taped to the hood of your vehicle.
Now imagine having the same password for all your online accounts, such as for banking, credit cards, and bill pay, and you make that password easy to guess – like abc123.
In either case, wouldn’t that be an invitation to trouble? Of course it would. But when it comes to passwords, it’s not uncommon for people to have the same one for all their online activity. And it’s often one that wouldn’t take an online crook too long to figure out.
It’s no wonder cyber security experts repeatedly stress the importance of having strong passwords, and different ones for different accounts. But trying to keep track of all those passwords would be mentally exhausting, right?
Fortunately, there are several ways to get around that problem and bolster your online security. And there are other password-related tips you can follow to protect yourself from cyber criminals. Here are some to consider:
- 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!
- Never share your password(s) with anyone. Guard them like any of your valuables.
- 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.”
- 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.
- Change your passwords on a regular basis.
- Software programs called “password managers” 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.
- 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.
- Try to avoid dictionary words. Instead, make up words and string them together. Or put together a series of random words, like a couple of song titles 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.
The harder you make it for cyber thieves to access your online accounts, the less likely they’ll bother with you. So take steps now to strengthen the first line of defense — your passwords.