Spring is just around the corner, and with it comes a healthy dose of spring cleaning. But while you dust out your dwelling after a long and difficult winter, you may also want to consider a quick cleanup of your digital life.
Get a fresh start on security by reviewing all of the passwords on your digital devices and online accounts. For far too many of us, passwords are simply an afterthought. We rarely change them as often as we should, and some of us even rely on one password for multiple accounts. It’s hard to overstate just how much of a security risk a bad password can present.
A weak password is a weak link in your security
Unfortunately, if you’re like many Internet users, your password is probably easier to guess than you think. Maybe it’s the word “password,” or a simple series of numbers, like “123456”. Perhaps you chose your middle name, or the name of your pet. You might have even gotten a little creative, replacing some letters with numbers (“passw0rd”). But unless you come up with something stronger, you may be leaving yourself vulnerable to identity theft.
All it takes is an email. Most online accounts will let users reset their passwords at any time, by sending them an email with a link to the reset page. If a thief is able to guess your email password, they are only a few clicks away from accessing your online life including online financial accounts. You could lose thousands of dollars and suffer significant damage to your credit.
Luckily, there are some simple security habits that everyone can adopt to lessen this risk.
- Use different, complicated passwords: As a general rule, a strong password should be at least 12 characters long and include letters, numbers and symbols. Don’t just use one common word – try phrases that are easy for you to remember, but hard for others to guess.
- Try the “common key” method: If you’re having trouble remembering a dozen different passwords, here’s an easy, yet secure, trick. First, create a base password (“Pl@c3h0ldr4”). Then, make specific adjustments to it that correspond to each account you hold that only you will remember. For instance, your Facebook password could be “Pl@c3h0ldr4FB”. Your email password could be “Pl@c3h0ldr4mailBX”. This way, you’ll be less likely to forget passwords, but you won’t have to repeat them, either.
- Use a password manager: If you want an even simpler solution, many services promise to securely manage all of your passwords, automatically imputing them as needed. You’ll have to create at least one really strong password for the service itself, but once you do that, then the hard work is done.
- Turn on two-step verification where possible: Two-step verification adds an additional layer of security to your password. Online accounts that offer it will send you a text message every time you log in. That message contains a code, which you will need to input in order to gain access. Popular websites like Gmail support this security measure, and it is highly recommended that you turn it on.
Of course, no matter how many security precautions you take, there is always a chance that someone will compromise your identity anyway. It’s best to be prepared for this possibility.
An identity theft protection service like Identity Guard can help. Our service monitors your credit file, Social Security Number and public records, alerting you to certain activity that may be indicative of fraud.