Secure Your Passwords

Strategies for safeguarding your passwords

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By Michael Lang on February 27, 2014

Image courtesy of Foto76 via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In a world where cyber crimes are regularly making the news with one system breach or another, breaking and entering through compromised passwords remains the weakest link to almost every breach.  Since passwords are the first line of defense against cyber criminals, it is important to pick strong passwords that are different for each of your important accounts. Follow these tips to create strong passwords and keep them secure.

Use a unique password for every important account

Choosing the same password for each of your online accounts is like using the same key to lock your home, car and office – if a criminal gains access to one, he gains access to all of them!  So don’t use the same password for an online newsletter as you do for your email or bank account. It may be less convenient, but picking multiple passwords keeps you safer.

Keep your passwords in a secret place that isn’t easily visible

Contrary to the popular notion of IT Support telling you not to, writing down your passwords isn’t necessarily a bad idea. But if you do this, use common sense measures to safeguard your passwords from being easily swiped. Don’t leave notes with your passwords in plain sight, on your computer or desk. Instead, keep them in a notebook or file-folder and only have them out long enough to lookup up a password and log into your account.

Use a long password made up of numbers, letters and symbols

The longer your password is, the harder it is to guess. So make your password long to help keep your information safe. Adding numbers, symbols and mixed-case letters makes it harder for would-be snoops or others to guess or crack your password. Please don’t use ‘123456’ or ‘password,’ and avoid using publicly available information like your phone number in your passwords. It’s not very original, and it isn’t very safe!

Having trouble figuring out just what to use for passwords?  Check out our article, "A Better Password Strategy" for an in-depth look at creating and remembering your passwords without having to write them down.

Set up your password recovery options and keep them up-to-date

If you forget your password or get locked out, you need a way to get back into your account. Many services will send an email to you at a recovery email address if you need to reset your password, so make sure your recovery email address is up-to-date and is an account you can still access.

Sometimes you can also add a phone number to your profile to receive a code to reset your password via text message. Having a mobile phone number on your account is one of the easiest and most reliable ways to help keep your account safe.

For example, service providers can use the phone number to challenge those who try to break into your account, and can send you a verification code so you can get into your account if you ever lose access. Giving a recovery phone number to usually will not result in you being signed up for marketing lists or getting more calls from telemarketers, but check the site's terms and use or privacy policy pages to be sure before giving up your mobile phone number to the website.

The plus side of Your mobile phone is a more secure identification method than your recovery email address or a security question because, unlike the other two, you have physical possession of your mobile phone.

However, if you can’t or don’t want to add a phone number to your account, many websites may ask you to choose a question to verify your identity in case you forget your password. If the service you’re using allows you to create your own question, try to come up with a question that has an answer only you would know.  Never use a question/answer combination that can be solved by looking you up on popular social media or geneology sites.

Try to find a way to make your answer unique but memorable – you can do this by using the tip above – so that even if someone guesses the answer, they won’t know how to enter it properly. This answer is very important for you to remember.

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