Passwords: The First Step to Safety

by Bill Fisher | Illustration by Brenda Vienrich

 

gcflearnfree-passwordtips-highres-v2Most people don’t put a lot of thought into creating a password. It’s usually easiest just to create a short, easy-to-remember password, or even to use the same password for every account. After all, the average person probably won’t be able to guess your password.
However, hackers often use password-cracking software that can keep testing different passwords until they find the correct one, and they can easily crack weak passwords. By creating strong passwords, you can greatly reduce the chance that your personal or financial information will be stolen.

Common Password Mistakes
Many people create passwords based on their spouse’s names, a hobby or a simple pattern, because these types of passwords are easy to remember. Unfortunately, they are also easy for hackers to guess. To create a strong password, you will need to avoid common types of mistakes.

Tips for Creating Strong Passwords
Never use personal information. This kind of information — including your name, birthday and spouse’s name —is often publicly available, which makes it easy for others to guess your password.

  • Use a longer password. It should be at least six characters long, and for extra security it should ideally be at least 12 characters if the site allows it.
  • Keep written passwords in a secure place. It’s even better if you encrypt passwords or write down hints for them that others won’t be able to understand.
  • Use a different password for each account. If someone discovers your password for one account, your other accounts will be vulnerable.
  • Get creative. Try to include numbers, symbols, and both uppercase and lowercase letters if the site allows it.
  • Avoid using words that can be found in the dictionary. For example, swimming1 is a weak password. Random passwords are the strongest.               Use a password generator —like the one found at strongpasswordgenerator.com .
  • Create a mnemonic device. This is especially helpful for random passwords. For example, H=jNp2# can be remembered as HARRY = jessica NOKIA paris 2 #. This may still seem random, but with a bit of practice it becomes relatively easy to memorize. You can also choose a sentence you know you’ll remember and then use the first letter of each word in the sentence, plus a few symbols or numbers, as your password.

 

Utilize Password Managers
Instead of writing your passwords on paper where others can easily see them, you can use a password manager to encrypt and store them online. Some password managers can also generate random passwords, making your information even more secure. Both Firefox and Chrome offer password managers, in addition to other services like LastPass.

 

Fisher is an instructional designer with GCFLearnFree.org, a program of Goodwill Community Foundation (GCF) and Goodwill Industries of Eastern North Carolina Inc. (GIENC). For more information, visit www.GCFLearnFree.org/internetsafety