Do you secure the doors to your home with rubber bands or an imposing lock? If your physical property is important enough to protect with strong locks, then don’t make it easy for someone to access your digital property by using a weak password.
Your computer password is your first, last, and best line of defense against damaging intrusions. With so many programs and devices enabled by passwords, it might seem more practical to choose a simple password to use everywhere but using a poor or common sense password can leave you vulnerable to:
- Identity theft
- Theft of $$$
- Invasion of privacy
- Company data exposure
- Sharing sensitive or embarrassing information
What are the top 10 password mistakes? What should you do to create and use more secure passwords? Avoid these mistakes and learn how to make your passwords stronger:
1. Easy to Locate
If your passwords are written on Post-It notes, hidden under your keyboard, typed on your smartphone, tucked in your Day-Timer … then you are not the only one who can easily find them there. If you absolutely have to, record them in a secure location or use a password manager program. The best option are passwords that are memorable and unique enough that you don’t have to write them down.
2. Too Common
Your password consists of common phrases, obvious patterns, “real” words or combinations of words. Hackers frequently use attack dictionaries of English and foreign languages that look for whole words or words pieced together. It is no longer safe to try odd combinations like paperbagel or purpletiger.
3. Based on Personal Data
Does your password use information that can easily be obtained about you? Avoid the name of your spouse, pet, kids; don’t use birth dates, phone numbers, addresses and so on. I once worked with a woman who simply switched between the names of her grandsons whenever she needed to change her password; easy to remember for her…and for most people she worked with.
4. Based On a Personal Name or Login
Avoid passwords that are a form of a network login ID in any form (reversed, capitalized, or doubled). Don’t use a first, middle, or last name, your initials or anyone’s nickname.
5. Simple to Guess
Although they may not consist of personal information, many other passwords are easy for automated programs or even other people to decipher. Some people have passwords based on common items or brands on their desk or choose a password around a dream car or favorite vacation. Do pick a password that can be typed quickly without having to look at the keyboard. This makes it harder for someone to steal your password by looking at your keyboard.
Also, if you use a passcode on your smartphone or iPad, look carefully at the screen. If obvious smudges appear in the same keypad position as your code, a smart thief may be able to decipher the 4 number pattern especially if is too basic like 1212. Better yet, turn off the Simple Passcode setting to enable an alphanumeric password.
6. Letters Only
More secure passwords consist of combinations of numbers, special characters or punctuation marks as well as a mix of upper and lower case letters throughout the password.
7. Short in Length
The shorter a password, the more opportunities for observing, guessing, and cracking it. A strong password is at least 8 characters long. Some organizations now enforce a minimum length and variety of characters to help strengthen passwords.
8. Too Old
You’ve used the same password for years. Usually it will take a hacker a very long time to crack a long, complex password. If you change your password every 90 days or as required by your computer network, then the chances of your password being cracked are even more diminished.
9. Always the Same
You have 1 bad password and use it everywhere. Instead have several different ones in place so all of your accounts, logins, and computers are not at risk if your password is discovered or cracked.
10. You Can’t Keep Secrets
How many other people know your password? Even if you shared your password for a good reason, your computer access is no longer secure. Change your password and keep it a secret from everyone!
By Dawn Bjork, MCT, The Software Pro®
Microsoft Certified Trainer, Technology Speaker, Software Consultant