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The Importance of Strong Passwords

The Importance of Strong Passwords

Most of us have heard of the importance of protecting our online identities with strong passwords, but how important is it really? What do passwords protect, and what happens when my online accounts are compromised? As it turns out, creating strong passwords and keeping them secret can save your identity and keep all of your personal information safe. However, online security can feel so overwhelming that you might not even know where to begin. If you are new to the cyberspace, or just looking to learn a few new tips, this article may be helpful in protecting yourself from cybercrime, by simply educating yourself on passwords!

Why should I have a solid, well-thought out password?

Strong, secure passwords protect all of the data on your devices. Think about all of the gadgets you use every day: your computer, your phone, your tablet, and many more. Some of these devices store your personal information. Maybe you use your electronics to pay bills, check your bank account, or buy clothes online. All of your bank and credit card information can be stored on your devices. If someone gains access to these accounts, they can wreak havoc on your life. Your identity could be stolen, money could be withdrawn from your bank account, any personal or private information may be stollen or shared. Strong passwords help to protect your account from falling into the wrong (potentially harmful) hands. A strong password is all that stands between you and criminals. What happens when my accounts are broken into? When your account is compromised, all of your personal information is at risk. Whoever has access to your account also has access to all of the information on your device. This could mean your bank records, address, and phone number. When someone gains access to your accounts, they can change your password so you cannot access it anymore. Imagine if you lost the ability to access your bank account indefinitely. You would not be able to see what the hacker was doing to your account. When your passwords are not strong enough, you put yourself at risk for attacks from cyber-criminals. These people could engage in illegal activities on your account, which would all be in your name. You could lose access to your bank accounts, and if the cybercriminal was able to find your physical location, you could be put in physical danger as well. There is no underestimating the damage that a cyber-attack could cause in your life.

How do I come up with a strong password?

If you have a very common password, such as: “1234, 4321, password, etc.,” hackers could simply guess your password and gain access to your accounts. If you have been using the same password for a long period of time, it's very likely that your password is for sale on the dark web. Criminals oftentimes collect passwords to sell, meaning almost anyone could have access to your passwords. In order to create a password that is virtually impossible to break, you should make it longer and more difficult. The more characters your password has, the less likely a hacker is to crack it. If possible, make your password longer than 15 characters. Use a mixture of letters, numbers, and special characters, such as “the pound sign, percentage sign, and asterisks” to forge an unbreakable password. Make sure to also avoid using sequential keyboard patterns such as “1234 or qwerty.” Hackers know that these passwords are popular, and will attempt to use them to log into your accounts! When you are creating an online account and making a password, do not "copy and paste" what you put in the "password" section into the "confirm password" section. If you entered your password incorrectly the first time, your permanent password for the website will be incorrect, and you won't be able to get into the account again. Make sure you type the "confirm password" box carefully, so you can fix any mistakes you made. Avoid using personal information in your password (birthdays, addresses, pet names). If a hacker gains access to this, they have the personal information in your password and the personal information in your account. After you are complete, make sure you log out of an account when you are finished with it.

Should I use the same password for multiple accounts?

If you can avoid it, try not to use the same password for multiple accounts. For example, do not use the same password for your online shopping accounts, bank, and email. If a hacker gains access to one of your accounts, and your accounts all have the same password, a cybercriminal could access all of your information. Do not give a hacker one key that unlocks all of your (online) doors!

Should I use a password manager?

Password managers can be a good option for forgetful people, but they also come with some serious risks. Password managers can be very useful; they can create very strong passwords, safely store them (generally), and retrieve them from an encrypted database. Most password managers have you create one "master password". You use this password to log into the password manager. The password manager will automatically enter your password into websites you use, so you only need to remember one passcode. The password manager encrypts all of your passwords for an extra layer of security. Some search engines (such as Mozilla Firefox, Safari, and Google) offer to save your passwords for the next time you visit the site. This is another good option, but it also leaves to vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

How can I remember all of my passwords without a password manager?

Unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to remember multiple unique and complex passwords. However, there are plenty of other options that don't include password managers. One option is to write down your passwords on a sheet of paper and leave it in a secure location, like your home filing cabinet or a fire-proof safe. However, if you lose this paper, you lose all of your passwords. It also isn't very convenient. If you are at work and need to access your bank account, you won't be able to because your password is at home. There is also a chance of the paper being stolen or misplaced.

Can I avoid having lots of accounts?

If you are worried about having too many accounts, you can always delete accounts that you do not use. This leaves you with less accounts you need to monitor for suspicious activity. Avoid signing up for websites you likely won't return to or use in the future. Before you create an account, or enter your information into a website, you should stop and think about if you truly need to sign up. Think very carefully about creating a new account and giving a new website your information. If you decide that it is not worth it; you have one less online presence to worry about.

What should I do if I think my account has been hacked?

First, check to see if you entered your password incorrectly. Make sure that your caps lock is turned off and pay special attention to entering it correctly. If you do all of this, and you still cannot access your account, there is a good chance that your account has been compromised. If you think your account has been hacked, see if the website you have an account with has a customer service line. In some cases, you can call them and they can get your account back fairly quickly. If the hacker has not yet changed the password to your account, change it so the hacker cannot log back in to your account. Call all of the affected companies and tell them that the person that has access to your account is not you.

How often should I change my passwords?

Professionals recommend that you change all of your passwords (no matter how secure!) every 60 to 90 days. As I mentioned before, using passwords long-term can cause them to leak onto the dark web, where they can be sold. Whoever buys your username and password will have access to all of your accounts. Generally, the more you change your passwords, the safer you are online. Make sure to update your passwords on your password manager (if you're using one) or write it down on a sheet of paper.

How can I keep my passwords safe?

If you want to keep your passwords safe, avoid entering them where anyone else can see. Do not tell anyone what your password is, and don't hint at it. Avoid sharing your passwords online unless you absolutely need to. Try not to enter any sensitive information/passwords when connected to public Wi-Fi, due to some hackers are able to intercept the passwords you enter this way. Add two-factor authentication when possible, so even when your password is compromised, you can protect your information. If you keep your passwords on a piece of paper, put it in a safe and secure place where no one else can see. Most of all, use your common sense!

Melanie Taylor, Derek Wolf
"People Like Us (do things like this)"

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Ⓒ copyright Derek Wolf 2020, all rights reserved.

Work Cited

Jennifer Medrano, et al. “15 Tips To Better Password Security.” McAfee Blogs, 16 Mar. 2018, www.mcafee.com/blogs/consumer/family-safety/15-tips-to-better-password-security/. Zamora, Wendy, and ABOUT THE AUTHOR Wendy Zamora Editor-in-Chief. “Why You Don't Need 27 Different Passwords.” Malwarebytes Labs, 6 Mar. 2020, blog.malwarebytes.com/101/2017/05/dont-need-27-different-passwords/.
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