6 tips for better password security

Hardly a week passes without another a story about data being stolen by hackers from another website, exposing customers’ bank and credit card numbers, contact details, emails and passwords. All of this information is highly personal and sensitive, and in a modern world rife with identify theft, learning that your data is in the hands of criminals is the stuff of nightmares.

With the average person having passwords for around 20 websites, and the same password for over half of these, it shouldn’t come as any surprise to realise that the password to your favourite online store could well be the chink in your armour that opens the doors to the rest of your life’s personal data.

There’s nothing much secret about email addresses; your friends, family, social networks, shopping sites and service providers will all have your email address as well as every newsletter you’ve ever signed up for, every special offer as well as every spammer this side of the sun. It’s your password which will make or break things for you, so here are some tips on choosing secure passwords.

1. Use different passwords for different sites 

Note I said “choosing secure PASSWORDS” -not one single password. Think of your password as a key, and then consider how vulnerable you’d feel if you had one single key which opened every door in your life and a stranger just got hold of it. Websites and service providers should store your passwords heavily encrypted so that even if they are hacked they’re indecipherable but sadly that’s not the case so assume they don’t. If you find it impractical to have a password per site, at least  use different ones for the most sensitive ones like your banking.

2. Mix up letters, numbers and symbols

Substitute letters with similar numbers, such as the letters i, e, and o with the numbers 1, 3 and 0 respectively. Or replace s with a $ dollar sign. Get at least one capital letter in there, go for 8 or more characters and you’re set. Even better, base your password on a sentence and mix the initials. For example, “my best holiday ever was my 2-week honeymoon in Bali” could yield “mbh3wm2wh1B”. Very secure and more memorable than you’d think, eh?

3. Avoid dictionary words

Password hackers often use automated software to rapidly run through the dictionary trying each word, and common variations. They’ll start with the obvious “password” and “password123”, and believe it or not that’ll let them into a lot of accounts straight out. Check out this list of the most common passwords and if you’re using any of them be suitably embarrassed and change it now!

4. Don’t get personal 

Your own name, or that of a loved one or pet, your date of birth or address, favourite band or football team, or any other information which might be readily available to someone snooping through your personal affairs will give them a head start if you go for obvious options like this.

5. Do not tell anyone else 

One of the most common ways of obtaining someone’s password is… wait for it… ask them. If you think that sounds ridiculous then watch Reporter asks passwords where a reporter on the street does just that. Your password is your personal key; guard it accordingly.

6. Check your password strength 

Hopefully you’ll now be thinking of better passwords you might want to use, so why not run them through an online password checker to see how they hold up. Sites such howsecureismypassword.net will give you an indication of how long it might take to crack it. I just tried my email password and it should be safe for 46,700 years. At the risk of sounding cocky, that’s good enough for me!

Remember it’s not just stealing your data that’s the problem. If someone accesses your systems such as RentPro using your details then it will appear to be you, and unless or until you can prove otherwise you will be held accountable for anything they do.

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