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Keep Yourself Secure Online By Creating Better Passwords

How many online passwords do you have? If you read The Report’s website then you have at least one, but it’s my guess that you’ve got plenty more, especially if you use the Internet as much as I do. You’ve probably got one for your bank balances, one for your email accounts, and one for your favorite online store.

Now ask yourself what would happen if someone stole one of your passwords? Could they access your bank accounts? Could they sign up for a new credit card? Could they do something as seemingly benign as send an email that others would think came from you? If they stole your email password, how many other things would that word unlock?

If someone was to successfully do any one of the things above, they could do damage to your finances or your reputation that would take months or even years to undo.

As we use the Internet more and more in our daily lives, it’s very important that you take the same steps online that you’d take to protect your family and your valuables in the real world. You no doubt already do things like locking your home at night or locking your car when you leave it in a parking lot. It’s just as important to take steps to protect yourself in the virtual world, and in many cases, it’s just as easy.

Here are some very simple safety precautions that will make your online experience safer and help protect your virtual identity:

  1. Bigger is better – One of the most dangerous password thieves is someone who “brute forces” your password. Brute force means these people aren’t sneaking into your accounts like a hacker you’d see in a movie; they’re more or less trying to guess your password and come right on in through the front-door pretending to be you.

    These people don’t know you or your family, and may live in a country thousands of miles away. What they do know is computers and how to write programs that will try thousands of password combinations to steal your online identity. Since the programs that guess the passwords are automated, it may be days before your realize your information has been stolen, and by that time it may be too late.

    The best way to avoid this type of theft is to lengthen your password and to make it hard to guess. Every additional character that you use in your password will make it exponentially harder for a thief to guess. Using non-alphabetic characters also extends the amount of variables that the thief has to use, so adding numbers or even punctuation like ! * & ^ $ makes it even harder. I’m not suggesting you make your password look like a cartoon curse-word, but adding a few uncommon characters helps make your password that much stronger.
  2. One size definitely does not fit all –It’s very important that you use different passwords for different websites. It may get confusing, but it insures that if someone steals one password they can’t gain further access to additional systems.

    Consider this example. Just a few months ago computers were stolen from both a major mortgage company and the Veteran’s Administration that held the passwords and personal data for thousands of people. The thieves in both instances now potentially have access to the passwords for everything from bank websites to community message boards.

    I happen to be a customer of that mortgage company, so by following all of these steps and doing everything possible to protect myself, I was still victimized through no fault of my own. Planning for this inevitability will make the theft of your access credentials an inconvenience rather than a potential disaster.
  3. Good for the goose, not good for the gander – A very common mistake made when people create a password is to use some part of their login ID in the password itself. For instance, if your login ID is your email address (myname@yahoo.com), you’d never want to use “myname” as your password. When a criminal attempts to break into your account, one of the first things they’ll try is creating hundreds of variations of your login ID to exploit this vulnerability found in far too many passwords.
  4. Change is good – As we’ve discussed already, password theft does happen, so changing your passwords frequently will insure that even if someone does steal one, their access to your personal information will be limited and only last for a short time. Changing your password at least once per quarter should become part of your annual routine. Many websites however may force you to do this far more frequently, which is even better.
  5. Keep it safe – As your passwords get longer and increasingly harder for others to guess, they’re going to get harder for you to remember. You may need to write them down so you don’t forget them, and if you do, be sure to keep them somewhere safe. Don’t leave them on blotters on your office desk or anywhere else that’s readily visible to your coworkers or anyone else for that matter that you don’t know and trust.

In addition to theft, fire or other disasters can also prove costly if you were to lose all of your passwords at once. You can liken this experience to losing your wallet and then having to replace all of the credit cards and important documents that you carried in it. If you follow my recommendations, you’ll have just as many different passwords as you had documents in your wallet, so you need to make sure you protect them from more than just thieves. I keep a small notepad in my home in which I write down all of my current passwords. I then lock that note pad in a small fire-resistant lockbox that I purchased at the local office supply store.

Preparing yourself adequately, and taking reasonable steps to protect yourself can make your experience online both safer and more enjoyable. If you want more information, there are hundreds of additional resources online with many more suggestions for creating better passwords. Good luck and happy surfing.

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