Staying Safe Online with Strong Passwords
Passwords can seem a hassle at times. However, they help us stay safe online by protecting some of our most important information and possessions. It pays to make sure that your passwords are strong enough to do their job well.
Some people go to great lengths to protect their digital lives. Others develop strategies to make life easier while providing some protection. Then, there are the people that seem to have given up. At an extreme, these people may have one or two passwords that they use everywhere.
Deciding how much effort you put into securing your digital life comes down to risk management. Is it worth protecting your family photos or business documents from someone who may delete them all? Given that someone who has access to your email could reset passwords to other websites, is it worth taking extra precautions to make sure your email is secure? How careful are you willing to be to make sure that nobody can take the money you have in your internet banking? It’s easy to think that you have nothing worth taking. However, you almost certainly have a lot to lose if you couldn't access your important information anymore.
The best passwords are ones that you can remember without having to write them down, and that people who know you well couldn’t guess. As a general rule, strong passwords don’t include personal information, they avoid common words or phrases, and are long and unique.
Avoid Personal Information
Strong passwords are difficult for people who know you well to guess. If your partner, or close friends and family could guess your password, it's not strong enough. Avoid using personal information, including names of partners, kids, friends, pets, or places. Also don't use common words or patterns. Google suggests trying:
- a lyric from a song or poem,
- a meaningful quote from a movie or speech,
- a passage from a book, or
- a series of words that are meaningful to you.
Long and Memorable
Strong passwords are long passwords. Aim for at least eight characters, but longer is usually better. Here are some ideas to help you create long yet memorable passwords:
- Try using more than one word, a phrase, or a sentence. E.g. “ShakenNotStirred”.
- Spice up your password by adding a couple of extra characters. E.g. “5MakeMyDay$”.
- Turn a sentence into an acronym. E.g. “May the Force be with you” becomes “MtFbwy”. Then, spice it up with a couple of extra characters to make “MtFbwy#9T”.
We all use lots of different services that require passwords. We know that we shouldn't reuse passwords but this can be a hassle. If your password at one service becomes known, then attackers could use that password to access other services. It's especially important to have a strong, unique password for your email accounts. With access to your email, attackers can reset your passwords for other services and gain access to them. Your internet banking and work passwords should also be strong and unique.
Strong Passwords Stay Private
Keep your passwords private and don't share them with others. It may be necessary to share personal passwords with others at times. Maybe, your family shares an email or Netflix account. In these cases, keep your passwords on a need to know basis. However, you should never share your work passwords with anyone. Your work passwords protect your employer's/business's important information. They will likely give access to customers' private information too. If someone at your work needs access to information or resources, they should be given access using their own username and password, not yours.
Make a habit of keeping your passwords private, and changing them if you think they have become known by someone else.
Password managers are great tools so that you don't have to remember all of your passwords. They can also create very strong, unique passwords for each service without you ever needing to know them. Modern browsers have password managers built into them and can be a good starting point to help you stay safe online.
I recently heard commentary about keeping a notebook as a password manager. While this seems insecure, the commentator noted that a notebook stored safely at home could turn out to be safer than using the same password for many different websites. Remember, the general advice is to never write down your passwords. Therefore, it's probably best to keep your email, internet banking, and work passwords in your head.
Strong, unique passwords can provide excellent protection to help you stay safe online. It's up to each of us to decide how much effort we're willing to invest in protecting our online lives and what level of risk we're willing to take. Having strong, unique passwords that others don't know for your email, internet banking, and work accounts is a good starting point, and using a password manager is a good next step. Which of these tips could you use to make your digital life safer?