- 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.
- 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.
- 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org), 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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