We use passwords online for just about everything, from our email and bank accounts to Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook. Many people use the same password for everything, or alternate a few options, but experts warn that using the same password in multiple places can leave you vulnerable to hacking. So how should you go about choosing secure passwords for your important accounts? Here’s how to build a set of easily memorable, highly-secure passwords:
1. Use a long password: When it comes to “brute-force” password cracking, the biggest thing you can do to make your password more secure is to make it longer. The more characters in your password, the more computing power it takes to test out all the possibilities.
How to do it: Try using a memorable sentence or phrase as your password instead of just a word. For example, you might choose “I love red balloons” as your phrase (don’t use this example, though!). That would make your base password “iloveredballoons,” which is easy to remember, and a whopping 16 characters already.
2. Use special characters: While it may be a little easier to remember your password if it’s all lowercase letters, adding special characters like capital letters, numbers and symbols (if the site allows them) makes your password more secure.
How to do it: Try to add in special characters in places that make sense to you, but aren’t obvious like capitalizing the first letter of each word. For example, you might make our sample password “iloveRED&balloons99,” which reminds me of the song “99 Red Balloons,” but isn’t immediately obvious to someone guessing your password. As an extra perk, this adds characters, bringing your password to 19 characters.
3. Don’t use the same password everywhere: We’ve already touched on this, but it’s a big one. While it’s easier to remember one password than a bunch of options, using the same password for all your accounts means that your important accounts are only as secure as the least secure site you’ve used that password on. If one site has a security breach and your password and user name get out, any other site where you’ve used that combination is vulnerable.
How to do it: Try adding a site-specific phrase or word to your base password for each site. For Facebook, you might choose “friends,” making your full password “iloveRED&balloons99friends.” For your blog, you might add “posts,” so you’d get “iloveRED&balloons99posts.” Try to pick something you’ll remember easily for each site. You could base it on the site logo, the name of the company, or even what they do. These long passwords may take you a little longer to type in, but they’re a lot more secure than a short, simple one.
Now that you have a set of secure passwords, the best thing you can do to keep them secure is to be careful how you handle them. If you can help it, don’t write your passwords down, particularly not if you’re planning to leave them near your computer. Never email your passwords to anyone, no matter who asks. No reputable company will ask you to send your password in an email, and it’s a very insecure way to transmit information. If for some reason you need to share your password with another person, call them to share the password. We’d encourage you not to share passwords at all though. Before you type your password into a website, check the address bar to make sure it looks legitimate. Be particularly careful about entering your password after you’ve clicked on a link sent to you in an email. If the address looks odd to you, type in the company’s official URL yourself before logging in.
Internet security software can help you secure your passwords by offering safe, separate browser for things like online banking and shopping, so you can enter your private information and passwords securely. Using security software regularly can also help keep your passwords secure by keeping your computer safe from viruses that might skim your information.