Try to Avoid Weak Passwords

PadlockCredit: Found on Wikimedia Commons under GNU Free Documentation License/ the modern world, passwords have become an equivalent to traditional keys. Keys protect your physical belongings, and passwords are currently the virtual keys used to protect to your digital information.

Why Do You Need to Electronically Lock Information?

Digital information is very valuable to thieves. Even the most trivial information you don't think can hurt you if exposed can be useful to them in putting together the pieces to your own unique "puzzle". With a collection of various pieces of data, criminals can steal your identity and/or wipe out your bank accounts. Even accessing seemingly harmless accounts can result in hitting pay-dirt because of the personal information supplied to the hosting website.

Need for Strong Passwords

Many people create passwords with the impression that any one will act as a barrier to keep intruders out. While any password is better than not using one, with today's technologies and hacking abilities, poor passwords can be circumvented in a matter of seconds. In this respect, not putting care into creating a password is essentially as useless as having none at all nowadays.

In fact, some industry experts are even suggesting passwords are on the way out, to be eventually completely replaced by biometrics as an identifier. After all, they can't be forgotten by users and these identifiers are unique to each person. However, as of right now, biometrics are not the standard (and some have raised ethical questions as to whether or not it should become the norm), and passwords are the primary "virtual keys" used in today's electronic society. It is important to protect them.

Two KeysCredit: Two Keys by Charles Rondeau/Public Domain

Types of Weak Passwords

Generic Passwords

It might seem obvious not to use a simple password with today's emphasis on issues such as stolen identities and financial theft, yet you'd perhaps be surprised to hear how many people do still use 1995-esq passwords. Over the past few years, annual reports have indicated many people either use the factory default or they enter a simple and easy to remember password such as "1234", "2468", "qwerty", "password" or other standard password. Thieves will run these passwords right off the bat and rapidly access sensitive information. In January 2014, SplashData, a password management company, reported the most common passwords of 2013 were “123456,” “password” and “12345678.”1

Short Passwords

The shorter a password, the less possible combinations there are, hence increasing a hacker's ability to break your code. Ideally, you want to use a minimum of 8-10 characters in your password, more if possible. Bottom line, the more characters, the stronger the password. Consider using both upper and lower case letters,  include numbers and, if supported, add a few special characters ( #,@,*,&, etc) to the mix. The more variation in your password, the stronger it will be. If you are using a short and straightforward password, you lower your chances of security.

Personal Information

Many people might use their own birthday, spouse or children's names, a pet's name, their own phone or cell number, anniversary or other personal information as a password. These are not good choices because if you are hacked, you've just given a criminal more ammo. Think of how those words might be used against you, either for additional hacking attempts or, if you've used those answers as ones to security questions businesses ask you to supply to identity yourself, this can help criminals hit pay dirt with your valuable information.

Credit Card TheftCredit: Don Hankins/Found on Wikimedia Commons-Creative Commons License/Attribution

Dictionary Words

Even the less talented hackers can easily hack dictionary words, all it takes is a simple software program to rapidly try different combinations, and these passwords can be cracked in a matter of minutes. Using words that can be found in the dictionary makes for a poorly secured account.

Reusing the Same Passwords

With the increased need for multiple passwords, it can be a challenge to remember all of them. As are result, many people use the same string of characters per website or account -- which makes sense because it is easier to remember. But this is a big mistake --  if one account is hacked, consider all your accounts will likely be hacked.

Rather than reuse the same strings of characters, keep a separate list (don't carry in your wallet or leave it out in a place people can find.), use a password manager, encrypt a document (but don't name it "passwords") . . . find some sort of solution, but be sure keep your virtual keys to various accounts unique.

One way to do this is to keep it meaningful. Choose something that will come easy to you, but not to anyone else. For instance, if you play video games, select the high score in your favorite game, or maybe the birthday or initials of the first person that you became friends with on Facebook.  Giving it some thought, you might be surprised of the ways you can come up with a strong, yet easy to remember, password. 

Everyone is a Target

The web environment has become a high crime area, and cyber-criminals are actively waiting and ready to access billions of accounts because they've found password cracking to be a lucrative, albeit illicit, business. Bank accounts, social networks and email, to name a few, are all considered good targets that cyber criminals would love to gain access to. While hackers are increasingly turning to businesses to get their pay off, even social media, forums or email activity that may not seem to contain any information of value on the surface can be targeted.  You'd be surprised what hackers and thieves can find through these kinds of online activities.

Nothing is ever 100 percent safe. While passwords are not a permanent barrier to keep intruders out of your accounts, these strings of characters add an additional layer of security to help protect unauthorized access to computing devices and personal accounts hosted on the web, on a computer or a mobile device.

Keeping all this in mind, are your passwords as secure as you think?

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