As the number of security breaches in the news mount it's more important than ever to protect yourself by creating hard-to-guess passwords.
The digital, e-commerce age offers consumers many benefits, including efficiency, speed-of-service and 24/7 accessibility. However, these perks do come with a cost. If you have any internet presence at all then you may run the risk of being hacked.
The latest Home Depot breach, in which 56 million credit and debit cards were stolen, is only the most recent example of what can happen when security measures fail to stand up under attack. Major retailers and institutions will always be the target of cyber-crime, and when a hacker gains your personal, sensitive information they will try to use it in a number of ways by plugging it into different accounts.
It's your responsibility to make it as difficult for them to make use of your information as possible. We know you've heard it before, but that doesn't make it any less true. The most reliable way to protect yourself is to establish quality passwords.
Here are some tips to help you get started:
- Make it long: Longer passwords are more secure because they are harder to guess. Some hackers use computer-based algorithms to systematically run through character combinations until they land on the right one. This means that every additional character you include significantly lessens their chances of figuring out your password. Obviously the longer the better, but Microsoft specifically suggests passwords that are no shorter than eight characters long.
- Make it meaningless: Try to stay away from actual phrases, because these can be more easily guessed by identity thieves. It doesn't help much for your password to be long if it is simply a long phrase or word. The point is to make it unguessable, and the best way to do this is to use a mix of symbols, letters and numbers, and to make your letters both uppercase and lowercase.
- Make it misspelled: If you have to use actual words and phrases in your passwords, misspell them with a variety of numbers and symbols so they're more difficult to guess. For example, Business Insider recommends using “1LuvSoCC3r!1” as opposed to "Ilovesoccer."
- Make it monogamous: Each password you create should remain in an exclusive relationship with one of your specific accounts. This is probably the most important password rule to follow, because if a hacker procures one of your passwords you don't want them to then have access to all your accounts. It might not be catastrophic if an identity thief figures out your eHarmony password, but if that's also the password for your bank account and email? It's much better to keep each one separate.
- Make it random: Don't use personal information to create your password. We all know not to use our birthday, but also stay away from significant dates, names and hobbies. This information is accessible to cybercriminals and will weaken your password significantly.
It may seem time-consuming and difficult to keep track of these lengthy and confusing passwords, but that's how you know they're strong enough to stand up to scrutiny. A good option to keep in mind is a password manager, which will encrypt your passwords while keeping them on file so you don't have to struggle to recall each one.