Cyber Security Lesson 3: Passwords

AKA: How to Create Unique Passwords and Protect Them!

keypasswordBack in October, we briefly hit on ways to keep your passwords safe. We believe that unique passwords are the most important tool you can use when it comes to Cyber Security, so we’d like to go a little bit more in-depth on the subject.

Before we begin, you should keep one thing in mind: Every password is important. The password to your Facebook account or online shopping account is no less important than that of your bank account. Hackers can use the information they gain from social media to gain access to your more important accounts and many online shopping accounts store your billing address, shipping address, and credit card information. Plus, in today’s day and age your online presence and reputation are extremely important. You wouldn’t want to risk a hacker destroying that.

There are three major mistakes that the average person makes with passwords:

  1. They use a weak password that can be easily guessed. Weak passwords include a dictionary term, common phrase, your name, your birthday, or any variation of password (i.e. “p@ssw0rd”.)
  2. They use the same password for every account. If a hacker gets lucky and cracks the password to one account, then he/she can access all accounts.
  3. They expose their password to others. This doesn’t just mean telling someone intentionally… this means logging in from a public computer, keeping a note with passwords written on it, having your web browser store your log-in information, etc.

There are two ways you can avoid all three of these problems:

#1: Use the “common key” method created by Forbes writer Jay Adkisson.

  • First begin with a short “key” word. It should contain a symbol, uppercase, lowercase, and number.  ex@Mpl3
  • Then, take the last two digits of the current year (2014 = 14) and add a set amount of your choice to the end… i.e. 10. Put this number at the end of your password key. ex@Mpl324 *next year, you would change this to ex@Mpl325
  • Next, add two letters that represent the account the password is being utilized for. If you are creating a password for Chase Mortgage, you could use the password ex@Mpl324cm. If you are creating a password for your health insurance account, you could use the password ex@Mpl324hi, and so on!
  • Lastly, add the quarter of the year it is. ex@Mpl324cm1

Using this method, you will have a very unique password (mistake #1: solved!) for each of your accounts (mistake #2: solved!). This method also allows you to easily remember your password for each account, making it unnecessary to write down your passwords or save them on your web browser. As long as you never access your account via a public computer or using a public Wi-Fi, mistake #3 is solved as well! *if you do need to access your account in a public area, make sure you change your password immediately after. It’s a good idea to have a key for when you need to change your password in an emergency!

Bonus: this method passes the security requirements for nearly all websites and web accounts!

#2: Use a password management software.

Password management software stores all of your passwords in one location. It can even create passwords for you. And, it is protected by one easy-to-remember but hard-to-hack password!

This software can come in various forms: it can be a desktop program that you purchase and install, a portable program purchased and installed on your smartphone or tablet, or a web site provided by a password management company.

This method solves all three major mistakes by allowing you to create (or creating for you) unique passwords for each account while eliminating the need to keep track of your passwords yourself… you only need to remember one password! As long as you avoid accessing your accounts in public areas and change your master password every quarter…you should be golden!

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