In my last post, “The Dangers of Email”, I explored ways that folks who are less than technically savvy can practice good email security hygiene. Today we’ll get into a somewhat controversial subject: passwords. You use them everyday to log in to your bank account, credit card, Amazon — the list goes on and on. You probably log in to a few websites everyday, but how often do you think about that password you’ve chosen? Password security is a hot button topic and everyone has their own suggestion about what constitutes a good strong password. This post will help guide you to a relatively secure password.
Your password is your key to your online accounts. It’s the ID you create to prove that you are who you say you are in a digital world. As humans we tend to make passwords that are easy to remember. If you forget your password you often are prompted with a difficult series of steps to recover it, from answering security questions to calling a support line. To skip all that headache we often create passwords that are pretty easy to guess and we use those passwords for all our accounts. This makes it very easy for an attacker to gain access to all your accounts. If one site where I use that password is compromised and my password is leaked, the attackers now know my password for every single account I’ve created. No matter how quick I change those passwords I will most likely miss or forget one. This is why it’s a good idea to use a variety of passwords. Very secure folks will create a different password for every account they create. I would recommend that at the very least you create separate passwords for your sensitive accounts (your bank account, credit card, 401k, and so on).
Now the question is, what is considered a good password? It might surprise you to know that modern computers can ‘guess’ passwords quite quickly, often going through millions of potential passwords a day. Passwords that are just words are incredibly weak passwords that can be guessed quite quickly. Also short passwords are out. Most experts agree that passwords should be at least 12 characters long. To make it harder to break, your password should contain a mixture of upper case and lower case characters, numbers, and special characters (such as !,@,#,$,?). It’s also a good idea to vary where these characters are placed. A friend of mine recently played ‘mind reader’ to some colleagues of mine. He had them think of a password of theirs. He then guessed that the first part of the password was a word of about 8 characters. That word is then followed by two numbers. The last character of the password is a special character. They were dumbfounded. Yes the human brain works the same for all of us. As we’re asked to do more and more things to our passwords we simply tack them on at the end. This is a pattern that hackers know about and will exploit.
So to sum up, here are some tips to help you practice good password habits:
1) Use a different password for all your important accounts. To win a gold star use a different password on all accounts.
2) Your password should be no less then 12 characters
3) Use a mix of lower case, upper case, numbers and special characters.
4) Don’t use the very common sequence of word-number-special character. Mix up where these are placed in your password.
Again, I urge our readers to feel free to forward this post on to friends or family that may benefit from these tips. Many in the security industry often forget that most consumers are less technically savvy, and therefore less security aware, than we are. This series is designed to help you, help them.