You do not have to be a computer expert to understand the importance of the handful of characters that protect your personal information from the rest of the world. But what exactly is a strong password, and what measures can you adopt to keep it safe? We decided to find out.
What defines a strong password? According to Microsoft, a strong password has the following characteristics:
- It is at least eight characters long.
- It is a combination of letters, numbers, and symbol characters.
- It is not found in a dictionary.
- It is not the name of a command.
- It is not the name of a person.
- It is not the name of a user.
- It is not the name of a computer.
- It is changed regularly.
- It is significantly different from previous passwords.
PC Magazine advises against using birthdays, names of pets, and favorite or familiar things of any kind for your password. So if you are thinking of using a combination of your child’s name and birthday as a password, you may want to think again. Using something like your pet’s name followed by a string of numbers will also leave you vulnerable to a hack. These are the first things that a hacker will use when attempting to access your account. Hackers have programs that are designed to combine the most frequently used words in passwords in order to access your account.
The specialists at The Guardian believe that using password generators (programs that create random, complex passwords) are safer and more efficient than attempting to randomly select characters on your own. They warn that what we might think of as being random and totally “unguessable” often turns out to be rather common. Hence, your favorite poem might be a hacker’s favorite poem too, and they will easily be able to penetrate your seemingly impregnable anagrams.
The average person has 22 accounts that need some kind of password. Furthermore, more than one in six of us has over 40 passwords, according to The Telegraph. The required complexity of a strong password and the need to regularly change it using a new combination of characters and symbols raises a very important question: how can you remember and keep track of all your log-in information?
- The first method is to write down your passwords using a code that only you can decipher. This method is seen as being the least reliable simply because you cannot be certain that your code is uncrackable. Also, if you decide to write your passwords down in a document on a computer and someone gains access to it, all your passwords will be compromised.
- The next method is to use a password manager or vault. This is a piece of software that stores all of your passwords in one place, and it allows you to view them through any of your devices. Before you choose such a service, make sure that it is reputable, because you certainly would not want to be willingly giving your passwords to a hacker. Overall, this method is safer than keeping a record on your computer, but you should still make a mental note of the master password that accesses the password manager.
- The closest we can get to a fail-proof solution is to not write the passwords down anywhere at all. If you are having trouble remembering your passwords, the internet is filled with memory tips and tricks to help you store and recall passwords at will. Word association and visual stories are the most common techniques that you will find on the web.
Unfortunately, a strong password is only as strong as its weakest link, which almost always turns out to be human error. Here are some more things that you can do to improve your online security:
- Do not send your password by e-mail.
- Do not enter a password when others can see what you are typing.
- Activate a two-step verification system on websites that allow it (e-mail and telephone providers, for example). This is also a common practice on social media sites.
- Do not recycle your passwords. This is a fancy way of saying “Do not use the same password twice.”
- Do not use the same password for all your accounts. Mix it up and use a variety of characters and symbols to ensure optimal protection.
- Do not share your password with anybody. Once it is out there, you quickly lose control over who has access to it. Be especially mindful of scams and people requesting your password for various reasons. No respectable service or company is going to make such a request of you.
Experts agree that there are no guarantees when it comes to cybersecurity. They advise using a combination of measures to deter hacking attempts. So stay vigilant and make the hacker’s job that much harder!
Eric Lawrence Frazier, MBA
President and CEO
NMLS 461807 CAL BRE 01143484