Passwords are big business. Hackers and thieves from all over the world are constantly working to find new ways to obtain your passwords, granting them access to everything from your bank and credit card information to your social media profiles. With your username and password, a criminal can empty your bank account and destroy your reputation in a matter of minutes—but it doesn’t have to happen.
Taking steps to create a secure password can help add an extra layer of protection to your online accounts, making it difficult or impossible for thieves to get your information. And you might think your password is secure, but think again. If your secret code meets any of the following criteria, it’s time for a new, stronger password.
1. You have a common password
Numerous studies have shown there are certain passwords that are more common than others. The number one most-used password? “Password.” That’s right—password. And while you might be thinking you’re smarter than that, so are a lot of other people using passwords like “abc123” or “letmein.” Criminals will attempt to break into your account using the most common passwords, so if you have one of them, it’s like leaving a key under the welcome mat. Change your password to something less common.
2. Your password is an actual word in the dictionary
So let’s say your password isn’t on the most common list, but it’s a single word, like, “napkin” or “automobile.” Some hackers will run a dictionary test against your account, and if your password is nothing more than a single word, you’ve most likely given them free reign over your account, opening it up to fraud or theft.
3. Your password is less than eight characters, and doesn’t include symbols
Most of the commonly used—and stolen—passwords are short, around five or six characters, and contain only letters or numbers. A strong password, though, contains a mix of letters, numbers and punctuation, making it harder for a thief to crack. However, you should try to avoid putting all the letters, numbers and symbols together at the beginning or end of the password. Mixing up the elements makes it harder to figure out.
4. Your password isn’t a sentence
Looking for an easy way to get your password to meet the character specifications? Make it a sentence. Most security experts recommend your password be a sentence, or translatable into a sentence. For example, a strong password might be something like “Ibm1sth&mi12.” It looks like a random combination of letters, but it actually translates into, “I bought my 1st house and moved in ’12.” Using a sentence not only makes your password strong, it also helps you remember the seemingly random combination of letter, numbers and symbols.
5. You have one password that you use for everything
Even if you have the strongest password ever created, if you use it for everything from the bank to your favorite magazine, you’re making it vulnerable to theft. Security experts suggest you create a unique password for all of your accounts. Though you may be balking, “how will I ever remember all of those different login credentials?” If you use a secure password manager you can safely store all of your login information in one place, and never have to worry about forgetting the obscure password you created.
However, once you create a secure password, keep in mind that you can’t use it forever. Make a note to change your passwords every so often. It’s up to you to keep the criminals on their toes and away from your accounts. Keeping your online logins safe and secure is the first step in doing that.
About the Author:
Brandon Fletcher is an IT security consultant working out of San Francisco, CA. He has been a part of the IT industry for the last 15 years and still loves his job.