How To Create Safe Passwords

By Stacey Ross

A few months back, I was reading an article about how to “spring clean” your online world and how various common oversights are leaving online enthusiasts vulnerable to hackers! I began to think of all of the emails, websites, and other accounts that, if in the hands of a hacker, could expose you to all sorts of nightmares.

So, what to do? For starters, consider a password make-over!

Common mistakes when making passwords

Looking at some of the most common passwords of 2015, ranging from “password” and “123456” to “football” and “login,” it is clear that hackers can access many accounts merely by repeatedly trying the most popular words or numbers.

Morgan Slain, CEO of SplashData, Inc., the computer security firm that compiled the list, shared, “If you have a password that is short or common or a word in the dictionary, it’s like leaving your door open for identity thieves.”

Be safer and sounder online

How many other common mistakes do we make? I spent a couple of hours chatting with Chris Duque, CyberSecurity Specialist/CyberSafety Advocate and a veteran of the Honolulu Police Department, who is an expert on online reputation management, cybercrime, cyber-bullying, over-sharing personal information, and much more.

I left the conversation eager to share his golden nuggets of advice, as he has a wealth of information, tips and insights that can surely lead to a safer online experience.

Seven tips for more secure passwords

There are several ways to protect our personal information and accounts, but Duque suggests a good start is to clean up our passwords.

1. Duque advises people who are active online to have five different e-mail accounts: a) family and close friends, b) the public, c) social media, d) banking, e) online shopping. Not only does it help you protect your private information, but it also helps organize your online activity.

2. Likewise, have different passwords for your various emails and online accounts. “Consider that a hacker opens one email account, he or she then has a field day that can destroy your life,” Duque shared. “You are less vulnerable if you make it harder to access your online information. If one account is compromised, it is safe to say that the others will be too. It’s best to prevent that!”

3. Steer away from using personal clues when creating passwords.  Keep personal information such as your name, location, birthday, loved-one’s name and even your sex out of the mix. Personal information is often publicly available, which leaves clues as to what your password might be, so also avoid words that share your nickname, hobbies or things you are known for.

4. Create high quality passwords, but make sure you can remember them. You don’t want to use the same password for everything, but consider changing the prefix or suffix so your passwords are not entirely different.

5. Put some thought into creating passwords. Include numbers, symbols, and both uppercase and lowercase letters. Also consider a control character and a non-English word. Replace a number for a letter, for example, “i” for 1 and “0” for O.

6. Refrain from giving out your passwords but, if you must, then change them after you receive help.  Do not email or text your passwords; rather call the person over the phone instead. Password managers such as LastPass and PasswordGenie are tools that encrypt and store passwords online, and some also help secure your information. Many people just choose to store their passwords in a safe place off the computer, like in a safe or hidden in a bookshelf (best to have them in more than one location). If you store them on your computer, be sure that they are well buried.

7. Be fake! When setting up emails and accounts, we are often asked security questions in case we forget our passwords. Duque advises us to change our passwords every six months or so and also shared this great piece of advice: “Hackers often are successful because they have clear clues as to what those answers might be, merely by studying the user’s profile. I advise creating your own questions, when that option is available, and give fake answers!” Nothing like throwing off a hacker, right?

Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of SanDiegoBargainMama.com. A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.

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