By Patty Gallagher
Any time you go online, you’re likely to have to enter a password to access your banking information, shopping account, or other digital services. It’s your tool for keeping your accounts and information secure from hackers and thieves, and it’s why you should take your passwords seriously.
Criminals will use many means to try to break into your accounts, including the most commonly used passwords. If you use any of these, it’s time to take a hard look at your passwords.
They also try to using previously compromised passwords to access other accounts, which is why staying vigilant is critical. And, they will use phishing scams to lure you into providing personal information that could be part of your passwords, or into clicking links that may install malware on your computers. Compromised passwords, in fact, are responsible for 81% of hacking-related breaches, so you would be wise to make sure you have good passwords in place and are following best practices.
Be unpredictable – Avoid using easily guessed passwords that include important dates, family members names, pet names, and other information that can be relatively easily found through searching publically available information.
Be unique – More than 65% of people reuse passwords across sites and apps, and the average person uses the same password 14 times. Don’t do it; use unique passwords for each account. That way, even if one of your accounts is compromised – regardless of how it happens – you won’t have exposed passwords to other sites.
Make things up – It’s logical to want to use passwords you can remember, but without making them easy to guess. Try using combinations of three or four words to create a password, such as “dogflightgrill.” It can be easier to remember if you’re using strings of words that have some meaning, but harder to guess. You should still avoid using easily guessable words and names. The longer your passwords are, the better, so the more component parts you use, the less likely you’ll be to have your passwords guessed.
Password generator/manager – Using a password generator will create longer password strings that are almost impossible to guess. Of course, it also makes it just as difficult to remember, which is where password managers come in handy. They securely manage your passwords in the cloud, so you only have to remember a single password to access them – but make sure it’s a very good one.
Old school – If a digital password manager isn’t for you, keeping a handwritten record of your passwords is another option. Keep the log in a secure place at home or in your office, where you can easily access it when needed. Yes, there’s still potential for someone to physically steal it, but that seems much less likely, especially at home.
Use 2FA – Whenever possible, make sure you use two-factor authentication for your accounts. While it doesn’t help protect you passwords, it will help secure your accounts if your passwords are compromised.
While complex, unique passwords make things a little more difficult, they help secure your digital accounts, identity, and money, and even with the extra effort, access to online resources still makes many tasks much easier and convenient.
But, it’s not foolproof. There’s still the chance your passwords could be compromised by vendors. If that happens, and you think your financial information may have been exposed in any way, contact your bank(s) immediately.