Your house key is one of the most important possessions you will ever own. That key gives you access to your home while keeping intruders out. A password is the electronic version of a key. It gives you access to your banking records and e-mail accounts online while keeping your information safe from criminals and hackers. Just as you protect your house key, you need to protect your password. Start by choosing the right word.
Don’t Get Personal
You might be tempted to use your personal information - your address, pet’s name, telephone number, or birthday - as your password. You might forget a complicated string of letters, but you will always remember your cell phone number. Unfortunately, criminals can also easily guess your address, telephone number, and birthday. So don’t honor Fido by naming your password after him; aim to create a password so complex, even your own mother wouldn’t guess it.
The Longer, the Better
Many sites and systems require passwords to be at least eight characters long - but that doesn’t mean your password should be that short. When it comes to passwords, the longer, the better. Consider using a pass phrase - consisting of several words or even a complete sentence - to make it difficult for criminals to crack into your online accounts. Pass phrases are easy for you to remember but hard for criminals to guess.
Don’t Just Use Letters
Keyboards have many keys beyond the alphabet ones in the middle, so try to use them all. The “Shift” key is invaluable in creating passwords; instead of capitalizing the first letter of each word in your pass phrase, capitalize the last. Mathematical symbols, quotation marks and square brackets are rarely used in passwords - making them the ideal symbols to include in your password. And consider misspelling words or inserting numbers into words - “apllE” instead of “apple” or “co0ki3” instead of “cookie.” A short password made up of a variety of symbols is very secure. If your pass phrase includes only letters, it needs to be long to afford you the same protection.
Don’t Rely on Memory Alone
Many people use simple and easy-to-guess passwords because they are afraid of forgetting a complicated string of letters and numbers. Writing down and storing all of your passwords is a good idea. Just remember to keep your passwords in a safe location - and not on a slip of paper taped to your computer monitor. Hide your list of passwords in a safe in your closet, in a locked drawer in your desk, or even in a box under your bed. Never save your pass phrases in a file on your computer or on an online storage site. This is the first place criminals look when searching for passwords - don’t give them easy access to your personal information.
Treat Your Passwords Like Your Wardrobe
That is, you should change both often. Criminals will have a hard enough time guessing your complex password; if you change your password regularly, they might never break into your online accounts. If you have a long, complex password, change it monthly. Change your short passwords every week.
Variety is Key
Never use the same password for all of your accounts. Remembering 20 different passwords might be hard, but those 20 passwords safeguard your life savings, your credit rating, and your online identity. If a criminal guesses one of your passwords, he can access your e-mail or your eBay account. But he cannot gain entry into your other 19 password-protected accounts.
Keep Your Password Private
The best password in the world is useless if a criminal can see you typing it into the computer. Never enter a password into a public computer; it could be infected with software that records your keystrokes. A criminal can see every letter and number you type, capturing your passwords and other sensitive information. Leave the public computers for random Internet browsing, and do your online banking at home. And never reveal your password to anyone, either in person or online. Banks, credit card companies, and e-mail providers will never send out e-mails asking you to click on a link and enter your password. This is a phishing scheme; criminals send out spoof e-mails, create phony links, and then capture the passwords unsuspecting people enter onto the fake site. The criminal will then enter your account using your password. To avoid all phishing schemes, only enter your password on your bank’s or e-mail provider’s website.
The ideal password needs to be easy enough for you to remember but hard enough to stump a criminal trying to decipher it. No password is 100 percent safe - if criminals can hack into the most sophisticated computer systems in the world, they can guess a single password. But by creating a complex password - complete with numbers, symbols, and uppercase letters - you can foil any would-be cyber criminals and keep your information safe.